Saturday, July 22, 2023

The Rise of the Cellar Rats...

Billy McKinney (Photo Credit: Mary Altaffer/AP)

The Yankees finally grab an elusive win…

The New York Yankees, thankfully, stopped their four-game losing streak with a narrow 5-4 victory over the lowly Kansas City Royals on Friday night. The Yankees and Clay Holmes did not make it easy, as the Royals nearly had the potential tying and go-ahead runs on the corners with two outs after Bobby Witt, Jr had hit a grounder to Anthony Volpe in the hole at short. Volpe fired the ball quickly to DJ LeMahieu at third as Drew Waters was sliding into the base. The on-the-field call ruled the runner safe. The Yankees had lost their challenge earlier in the inning when Waters had stolen second base under the tag of second baseman Oswald Peraza. However, video replay showed LeMahieu had tagged the runner before he reached third, and umpire review of the play overturned the call on the field, ending the game.

DJ LeMahieu tags out Drew Waters at third base (Photo Credit: Robert Sabo/NY Post)

The Yankees withstood two home runs by Royals second baseman Michael Massey (which represented 20% of his total career home runs), thanks primarily to a three-run jack in the fourth inning by Billy McKinney who also had several outstanding defensive plays in the game. McKinney was filling in for dinged-up Harrison Bader in centerfield. Franchy Cordero (second inning) and Gleyber Torres (fifth inning) hit solo home runs which accounted for the Yankees’ other runs.

Clarke Schmidt, pulled in the sixth inning after only sixty-four pitches, picked up the win. He is now 6-6 for the season with a 4.33 ERA. Not a great outing despite allowing only three runs, but it was enough to help give the Yankees the much-needed win. The taxed bullpen did enough to save the victory despite Massey’s second home run against the electric fan-hating Tommy Kahnle in the eighth inning.

The Yankees (51-47) remain in last place in the AL East, a half-game behind the Boston Red Sox. Boston’s game against the New York Mets at Fenway Park was suspended in the fourth inning due to thunderstorms. The game will resume today as part of a split-doubleheader, with the Mets leading 4-3. The Yankees are 8.5 games behind the Baltimore Orioles (59-38) and Tampa Bay Rays (61-40). They are three games out of the Wild Card chase.

Buyers, Sellers, or Both

Writing about the Yankees has become an arduous task. The team is no longer fun to follow. Sure, I will continue to follow the team, I have been a Yankees fan for most of my life and my fandom will never change. But the “fun” of being a Yankees fan is on temporary hiatus.

I am cautiously hopeful. I would like to say cautiously optimistic, but I am short on the reasons for optimism. The trade deadline is at the end of the month, and people are debating whether the Yankees will be buyers, sellers, or both. At the beginning of the month, selling would not have been an option. Given the Yankees do not have much to sell, it seems more likely they will make moves that can possibly help this year but might be more directed for 2024. If they legitimately took that approach, there would be no rental acquisitions. So, if the Yankees do acquire a rental, it should be an indication they remain “all-in” for making the playoffs this season.

The Yankees must solve the left field abyss. The failure to address the position last offseason with a legitimate left fielder after the Yankees lost Andrew Benintendi in free agency has proven to bigger mistake than we thought it might be in Spring Training. There have been moments of positivity, but nothing has proven sustainable. Franchy Cordero is not the answer, despite his home runs this week. Despite the dearth of left field production, the organization has no apparent plans to promote Estevan Florial and the impending returns of Jake Bauers and Willie Calhoun are far from exciting. Enough with trying to start fourth outfielder types (and infielders) as the starting left fielder. Bring in someone who can perform, every day, with solid offensive and defensive skills. Cody Bellinger has been mentioned by many as a good fit and lately the St Louis Cardinals outfielders, particularly Dylan Carlson and Brendan Donovan, have been linked to the Yankees. With the Cardinals, I wish we were talking about Lars Nootbaar instead of Carlson or Donovan, but it seems unlikely the Cards will trade him.

Brendan Donovan (Photo Credit: USA TODAY Sports)

Starting pitching and relief help are clearly areas of need if the Yankees plan to snag one of the Wild Card spots. I am hopeful we will see an improved Nestor Cortes, Jr when he returns from the Injury List, yet the Yankees must be prepared that we may never see the “good” Luis Severino again this season. If Cortes is unable to find the 2022 magic and Sevy continues to struggle, the Yankees need help in the rotation. If the Yankees part with Clarke Schmidt or Domingo German in deadline deals, they will need arms to fill those vacancies. Lots of talk about Chase Hampton and Clayton Beeter but are they ready for the Major Leagues? I always worry about the initial starts for any rookie pitcher. There is generally a learning curve in the Major Leagues, and most guys do not “get it” right away. Rare are the Fernando Valenzuela’s of the world.

The failure of Yankees team hitting is GM Brian Cashman’s fault. I heard people blaming the players or Aaron Boone, but ultimately, the accountable resides with the man who made the decision to put those players, coaches, and manager on the field. This past offseason, even the average Yankees fan could see the team’s failures to address the areas of need beyond the signing of Carlos Rodón. I will never understand why we could see the problems and the team could not. I know Brian Cashman and his gang of nerds are smart people. They are smarter than any of us. That is why it is so baffling that they could not recognize and address the potential problem areas before the team stalled this season. Or did they see it, and chose to do nothing about it? I know…you do not need a $300 million payroll to compete. Every move seemingly reduces the bottom line, and we know that Managing General Partner Hal Steinbrenner wants to win the financial war more than the World Series.

In many ways, I feel sorry for Dillon Lawson. He was made the scapegoat for Cashman’s failures. I have always believed that managers and general managers have limited shelf life. The positions were not made for lifetime appointments. Sometimes the vision, the strategy, and the voice need to change. It is time for Brian Cashman to go. Stating this, elevating Cashman to President of Baseball Operations and hiring a new general manager serves the same purpose. The Yankees need a new general manager. The new general manager then needs to decide who will manage the team. It should not be Aaron Boone.

However, I digress. I am not advocating an in-season change. If the Yankees manage to make the right moves at the deadline and the team is successful in capturing a playoff spot, followed by post-season series wins even if it does not culminate in a World Series championship, I think it is unlikely the Yankees will make any changes with the current management structure.  If the Yankees miss the playoffs or make it, only to lose the Wild Card game, then change must happen.

I do not envy Brian Cashman. After the trade debacles of recent years, he needs a winning hand at this year’s trade deadline. Success is not defined by acquiring Shohei Ohtani or Juan Soto. I think both players are unrealistic options for the Yankees. It would be beautiful to see them as Yankees, but I cannot see the Yankees making those moves (or the Angels and Padres parting with their superstar players). So, the winning formula must be comprised of lesser players. Possible, but Cashman’s recent history does not inspire confidence.

August 1 will soon be here. The fate of the 2023 New York Yankees hangs in the balance.

Season-Ending Losses

When Josh Donaldson recently pulled up at first base with an apparent calf injury, it was inevitable he would miss time. I do not think any of us knew how much time he would need. By placing him on the 60-day Injured List, Donaldson’s career with the Yankees is seemingly over. His return for the final weeks of the season seems improbable. While you never want to see anyone get injured, Donaldson was not exactly Mister Popularity with Yankees fans. I wish Donaldson a speedy recovery, but on the other hand, I welcome the change. The injured calf has finally given Oswald Peraza his long-awaited Major League opportunity. I hope he takes the challenge and runs with it. He should have been with the big-league club since Spring Training and was only denied because of the emergence of Anthony Volpe as the team’s starting shortstop.

In retrospect, I wish the Yankees had played Peraza, a shortstop, at third base more while he was in Triple-A. He only played there for two games this season. I guess no one could have forecasted Donaldson’s injury, even if his production was putrid. Regardless of what happens, I hope Peraza is here to stay. He may not be a superstar and he does not have Volpe’s ceiling, but he can be an effective everyday starter for a playoff caliber team.

Oswald Peraza

Hopefully, the Yankees have a handshake deal with Donaldson to agree to part ways after the season. Donaldson will get paid for his 2024 option (nice retirement money), but there is no scenario that should include Donaldson in the famed Pinstripes ever again.

DJ LeMahieu is most likely the primary third baseman moving forward. He played there on Friday night against the Kansas City Royals after all three games in Anaheim, CA featured Peraza at third. Peraza was at second base last night. Ultimately, the hottest bat will determine who primarily plays at third. It would be nice if the Machine that we knew from the past few years would reappear, but conversely, I would not be disappointed if Peraza stepped up his game on baseball’s biggest stage to snag the position as his for the duration of the season.

It seems unlikely the Yankees will attempt to acquire a third baseman at the trade deadline. There are too many greater needs if the Yankees decide to buy. I am happy Donaldson is off the active roster, sad that it took an injury to do it, and grateful that Peraza has an opportunity to make his place in the clubhouse.

The other season-ending loss was a surprise. On Friday, there were reports that Triple-A catcher Ben Rortvedt had a locker at Yankee Stadium. There was speculation among the fanbase on social media that maybe Jose Trevino had been traded. I did not really expect any truth to those rumors since none of the professionals who follow the team were making those claims, but it was unclear what prompted the move. Very unlikely the Yankees would carry three catchers. It had been obvious in recent weeks that Kyle Higashioka was getting most of the time behind the plate and there was no word for why Trevino was not playing. I knew this season has not been quite as magical as his run last year, but I certainly did not expect to hear the news that he has a torn wrist. The specific injury is a tear of the triangular fibrocartilage complex (TFCC) ligament in his right wrist.

Trevino has been placed on the 10-day IL but Trevino told reporters he is done for the season since the wrist requires surgery. It is a tough loss. Not as happy to see Trevino go as I was Donaldson (injury aside), but it does create an opportunity for Ben Rortvedt. I would like to see if Rortvedt can prove he belongs, and whether he can be an upgrade over Higashioka next season. Trevino mentioned that the wrist has bothered him since Spring Training so if his surgery and recovery prove successful, it would be exciting to see if Trevino and Rortvedt can form a strong catching tandem next season. Trevino expects to be ready for Spring Training.

Rortvedt’s promotion created an opportunity at Triple-A for Austin Wells, so the Yankees’ top catching prospect is getting closer. His Major League debut is probably right around the corner. He is only a phone call away (and placement on the 40-man roster) from the Bronx if anything were to happen to either Rortvedt or Higgy. Hopefully, Wells makes the most of his time with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders before the inevitable promotion call arrives.

Here are wishes for full recoveries for both Jose Trevino and Josh Donaldson. Trevi, ‘see ya’ down at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa next Spring! JD, well…just ‘see ya.’ 

MLB Draft Signings

Congratulations to the Yankees for signing all their 2023 MLB Draft picks except for 2B Roc Riggio, taken in the fourth round. The Yankees have until Tuesday to sign Riggio.

I was most excited about the 20th round selection, RHP Bryce Warrecker. Everything I had read seemed to imply that he would be a difficult sign. He has played three seasons at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo (CA). Playing in the Cape Cod League in 2022, Bryce was awarded the CCBL Most Outstanding Pitcher for his summer of work. This season for Cal Poly, his ERA was 2.08 with 0.87 WHIP. The 6’8” righthander struck out 35 batters in 39 innings. The Yankees will also pay for the remaining academic fees that Warrecker needs to receive his degree at Cal Poly. Hopefully, substantially more money awaits him in the Bronx one day.

Bryce Warrecker

In speaking to Nooshawk in Santa Barbara County, CA, Warrecker said, “Signing with the Yankees allows me to be in one of the best organizations with some of the most knowledgeable baseball minds in the world.” He went on to say, “I am really excited to see how I can grow with them.” Yes, Bryce, we are too.

I feel bad for the ninth and tenth selections. They got squeezed with the bonus pool allotment for the first ten rounds. The Yankees had a bonus pool of $5,299,400 which was the second lowest in the MLB. The pick values for the first ten rounds equal the Yankees’ bonus pool. If Roc Riggio does not sign, his pick value is subtracted from the bonus pool which is sad for Jared Wegner and Brian Hendry since they signed for much less than their assigned pick values. Better to be picked in the twentieth round than it is the ninth or tenth round. Honestly, they need to produce a better solution so that the higher draft picks do not get shortchanged (forced to take less money than guys drafted below them).

The Aaron Judge Watch

Aaron Judge continues to progress. He took batting practice and did field drills yesterday and will take pitches from Jonathan Loaisiga in a live bullpen session tomorrow. Hopefully, we will have a better idea when Judge might return after the bullpen session. It is a given that the torn ligament in Judge’s toe will not be fully healthy this season. My fear is an ineffective Judge when/if he does return. DJ LeMahieu was never right after his toe injury last year. The Yankees need Judge’s bat in the lineup if they intend to make up any ground in the Wild Card chase. Well, more than just the bat in the lineup. It needs to produce more than swinging strikes and fly outs.

When Judge ran the bases the other day, he looked strong. We obviously do not know the level of pain he is experiencing, or how much it will affect him on the field. I am cautiously hopeful he can help the team soon despite the toe. The activation of Aaron Judge will be the team’s best potential trade deadline transaction.

As always, Go Yankees!

Saturday, July 15, 2023

The Scarcity of Wins...


Gleyber Torres (Photo Credit: David Zalubowski/AP)

Yanks find themselves in AL East Cellar…

I had a silly dream.

The Yankees, armed with an energetic new hitting coach, went to Colorado to open the second half and hit a barrage of home runs at Coors Field to ignite an offensive surge that carried the team through the remainder of the regular season. They passed the Blue Jays, Orioles, and Rays to capture the AL East and entered October as one of baseball’s hottest teams. Then, unlike the Yankees, reality hit.

Two feeble runs in hitter’s paradise and a loss to one of baseball’s worst teams sent the Yankees to another disappointing loss on Friday night. The winning Rockies pitcher, giving up only the two runs on Giancarlo Stanton’s first-inning two-run jack, lowered his overly inflated ERA to 6.19. A pitcher prone to giving up runs, and particularly home runs at home, showed new hitting coach Sean Casey that he has a harder job than he could have ever imagined.

Sean Casey (Photo Credit: AP)

The loss dropped the Yankees (49-43) into a last-place tie with the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox used six home runs to beat the team that took two of three from the Yankees last weekend, the Chicago Cubs. The 8-3 victory was Boston’s sixth consecutive win. They have scored seven or more runs in four of the six games. Their game yesterday was exactly what I had hoped to see out of the Yankees. At the break, the experts were saying the Red Sox should be sellers at the trade deadline while the Yankees should be buyers. Who is kidding who? The Yankees are not going to acquire Shohei Ohtani or Juan Soto. There is no magical pill. The Yankees are who they are. An average team that has difficulty scoring runs. Same old, same old. While Boston was winning six in a row, the Yankees were dropping five of six so the basement it is. Only once in those six games, the lone win, did the Yankees manage to score more than four runs. Face it, the Yankees are not particularly good. Throwing away quality prospects for a fourth-place finish seems unwise.

The Yankees’ problem was not the hitting coach. Dillon Lawson was just the scapegoat. The reason the Yankees are struggling this year can be laid at the feet of GM Brian Cashman. Roster construction. He built a flawed team that is incapable of winning without Aaron Judge in the lineup. As frustrated as people can get with Manager Aaron Boone, Cashman is proving to be the greater problem. The average fan saw the weaknesses in the Yankees’ roster, yet the team did nothing to address them in the off-season. Now, talking heads like Buster Olney are spreading false hope among the fan base that the Yankees are the most motivated team to acquire Shohei Ohtani. While the Angels are willing to listen to offers, I still find it unlikely they pull the trigger on a trade that could bring an infusion of young talent into their organization. Angels’ owner Arte Moreno is not that smart, and he has too much pride to trade the multi-talented Ohtani.

But if the Yankees did acquire Ohtani, it would serve no purpose if the guys around him continued to underperform. New York would just be Anaheim-East, thrilling play by Ohtani en route to more losses. I would love it if the Yankees acquired Ohtani or Soto, but I do not think they will. The trade speculation is not worth getting excited about. I am equally convinced that one man cannot turn the Yankees around, regardless of how special that one man might be. It takes a team effort and ninety-two games have shown the effort is not there. This seems to be just one of those years.

I hope the Yankees can provide a spark of hope in the coming days. They have time to turn it around. If they can get on a winning roll, perspectives would change including mine. I want the Yankees to win. I want to see the lights of Yankee Stadium burning brightly in October. It is up to the Yankees to give us that optimism. So far, I’ve got nothing.

Sean Casey, Hitting Coach

When it was announced that the Yankees had fired hitting coach Dillon Lawson, there was immediate word that the Yankees had narrowed their replacement search to two men. Sean Casey, in a surprising move, was subsequently named the new hitting coach and he appears to have been the primary candidate to replace Lawson. We may never know who the second guy was.

Reds Teammates Sean Casey and Aaron Boone (Photo Credit: AP)

I was a little underwhelmed when I first heard Casey’s name. Nothing against him, it was more about his lack of coaching experience after fifteen years at MLB Network. I have never disputed Casey is a knowledgeable guy who knows hitting. I am not sure who I wanted as the hitting coach. The best man to hold the job in recent years was Kevin Long but he currently holds the same job with the Philadelphia Phillies. I thought Brett Gardner might be an inspired choice. He may not have coaching experience either, but as a former team leader, he knows the guys in the clubhouse, has their respect, and is a master at over-achievement.

The more I listen to Sean Casey talk, the more I understand that he is the right guy even if the Yankees stumbled in Casey’s first game. He is enthusiastic and he knows what he is talking about. In his years at MLB Network, he had to effectively communicate the fine art of hitting to millions of viewers which he did with ease. His high energy reminds me of Nick Swisher. Man, if those two get in the same room, who gets in the last word? In the few days after Casey’s addition to the coaching staff, I heard him talk more than I did Lawson during the entirety of his Yankees coaching career. Lawson may be a nice guy who understands the analytics of hitting, Casey is the type of guy you run through a wall for. I think Casey’s presence will become more pronounced in the days and weeks ahead. Will it be enough? Who knows, but I do believe better days are coming or rather I hope they are.

Casey may be back on the MLB Network after the season. Since his contract is for the duration of the season only, there are no guarantees he will be back in 2024. He must decide he wants to be back, assuming the Yankees want him back. If the Yankees fail to make the playoffs, there is a possibility Manager Aaron Boone, and his entire coaching staff, are let go. Brian Cashman has already shown that he is willing to make others a scapegoat to save himself.

I guess none of us are guaranteed a future. I hope Casey can be effective with the time he has been given. If it leads to his return in 2024, great for him and great for us because it will have meant he proved to be up for the challenge. Clearly, his success will be our success. If not, time to go back to the drawing board.

Welcome to the Yankees, Sean. No pressure.

The MLB Draft

The 2023 MLB Draft is complete. This one felt like the George Lombard, Jr Show. The Yankees chose a gifted young 18-year-old who will require over-slot value to entice him to forego his commitment to Vanderbilt University, and then a predominate slew of college players to help subsidize the first pick. I know, that is selling the other selections short, and there is talent among them but no doubt the choice of Lombard, Jr determined how the draft played out.

I am happy for Lombard, Jr and I hope he signs as expected. He has a Major League pedigree. His father, George, Sr is a former Major Leaguer and the current bench coach for the Detroit Tigers. While I remember Senior’s on-and-off time playing for the Atlanta Braves, I remember him more for his time as a first base coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was coaching with the Dodgers when they won their season-shortened World Series championship in 2020. As a five-tool talent, Junior has a chance to easily surpass his father’s Major League accomplishments. It remains to be seen if he sticks at shortstop, but I am happy for him and look forward to his future in the Yankees organization.

George Lombard, Jr holding World Series Trophy w/family

The Yankees took several two-way players, OF/LHP Kyle Carr, in the third round; and 3B/RHP Josh Tiedemann, in the thirteenth round, however, Carr is expected to focus on pitching. Tiedemann, drafted out of a Chandler, Arizona high school, will get the opportunity to continue his two-way role. Although I have not seen official confirmation, I saw news circulating on social media last evening that Tiedemann had signed with the Yankees. I hope so. He had committed to Texas Christian University, a fine baseball school but as one of the better third base prospects, who can also pitch, I like his future.

I love the name of second baseman Roc Riggio (taken in the fourth round from Oklahoma State University). He is a bit smallish (5’9”, 180 lbs.), but he has drawn Dustin Pedroia comparisons. He is a little of a show-boater, but as they say, if he walks the walk, he can talk the talk. I do not mind attitude with a player so long as he can back it up with his play on the field.

RHP Nicholas Judice, a 6’8” right-hander taken in the eighth round, is intriguing. I enjoyed it the last time we had a 6’8” right-hander in the back of the bullpen. Judice is a project, but I am excited to see what the Yankees can do with him. He will be in the right organization to maximize his potential.

Nicholas Judice (Photo Credit: Luke Richard/ULM Athletics)

Lombard, Jr’s slot value is $3,065,000. Pinstripe Alley is reporting that 1B Kiko Romero (seventh round) has signed for $197,500 which is $27,200 below his slot value; and OF Jared Wegner (ninth round). Wegner signed for $72,500 which is $100,600 below his slot value. All are part of the Lombard, Jr Slush Fund although I feel bad for the guys who get shorted to get Lombard, Jr more money.

With so many college players taken, there is a chance we can see a couple of these guys within the next few years. 18-year-olds, like Lombard, Jr, seem like they are so far away even if Anthony Volpe made his debut at 21. Regardless of when (if) they make it, I hope there is Major League success waiting for a few of the guys taken in this year’s draft. It would be nice to say everyone but realistically, that is not how it works.

Signings and Trades

We are a half-month away from the Trade Deadline. Trade activity should begin to heat up in the coming days. I am not buying into the Shohei Ohtani/Juan Soto to the Yankees talk, so I will place Cody Bellinger as the guy most likely to be a Yankee in August.

Bellinger hit two home runs in the Cubs’ loss to the Red Sox last night. He is hitting .302/.357/.518 (.875 OPS) on the season. As long as he keeps hitting…and the Cubs keep losing…Bellinger will be a Yankee. He may never be MVP-caliber again and we all know how he struggled in Los Angeles in the subsequent years, but he would be a vast improvement over anybody the Yankees have played in left field this year. He is not Joey Gallo.

The Yankees signed former Diamondbacks first/third baseman and outfielder Jake Lamb to a minor league contract. The Los Angeles Angels recently released Lamb when they needed an active roster spot for oft-injured but now-healthy Anthony Rendon. Lamb has not been good since 2017 and has been bouncing around the league since he was let go by the D-Backs in September 2020. This appears to be a depth move, and I doubt we see Lamb in the Bronx. It would be fun if he had a Matt Carpenter type of run. If the Yankees do not get a third baseman at the trade deadline to replace Josh Donaldson, Lamb may get his chance if Donaldson continues to be an automatic out at the plate (there is nothing that leads me to believe we will ever see the Donaldson of old; he is just old) and DJ LeMahieu continues to show he is on the same age-related downhill slide. 

Jake Lamb (Photo Credit: Steven Bisig/USA TODAY Sports)

Juan Soto. Nah, as much as I would love him on the Yankees roster, I am not going to get sucked into that one. Much like Manny Machado revisited. As long as Brian Cashman is running the show, I do not see the Yankees aggressively pursuing generational talent. They have passed on too many talented players not named Gerrit Cole. I doubt Aaron Judge, despite his professed love for the Yankees, would be a Yankee today if it had been left up to Cashman.

I am hopeful the Yankees make the necessary moves in the next couple of weeks to salvage the season. I wish I were more confident it will happen. I want the Yankees to win. I recognize a World Series may not be in the cards but make the playoffs and anything can happen. It begins today. Erase yesterday and win today. Then win tomorrow. Hal, give us a reason to believe in this team.

As always, Go Yankees!

Monday, July 10, 2023

Yankees Fire Hitting Coach Dillon Lawson...


Aaron Judge, Dillon Lawson, and Giancarlo Stanton (Photo Credit: Conrad J Williams/Newsday)

First In-Season Coaching Staff Purge by Brian Cashman…

The Yankees may not be in last place in the AL East (yet), but their bats have shown it is only a matter of time. Only a single game separates the Yankees from the last-place Boston Red Sox as we enter the All-Star Break. The Yankees are among the worst-hitting teams in the American League, and surprisingly, the Red Sox are among the best. It does not bode well for the second half unless there are changes. 

Through ninety-one games, the Yankees (49-42) are hitting .231/.300/.410 (.308 wOBA). Only the Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics are worse. Something had to give. Since Aaron Judge injured his toe at Dodger Stadium, the Yankees' team offense has been inept at best. I am not saying that we, as fans, are smarter than the Yankees’ Front Office (we are not), but the roster flaws were evident to the most casual of fans. Attempting to fill the left field vacancy with many Quad-A types has been unsuccessful. Sure, they have had moments to shine, but collectively, they have not performed. Injuries have played a role, yet the greater problem is shared by the team. An inability to hit, particularly with runners in scoring position.

On Sunday, the Yankees finally took some action. While you can argue that the manager, Aaron Boone, should have been held accountable, GM Brian Cashman, probably the man most responsible for the team's current state, chose to fire the team’s hitting coach, Dillon Lawson.  It was an overdue move.

Before his promotion to the Major League coaching staff, Lawson did an effective job as the minor league hitting coordinator. Unfortunately, his skills did not translate to the game’s highest level. The downside of the firing is Lawson is no longer in the organization. In retrospect, the Yankees should have left him in charge of minor league instruction, taking a more conventional route to replacing former hitting coach Marcus Thames. Let the assistant hitting coaches have the necessary mix of analytics-driven coaches. The main hitting coach needs to understand both analytics and old-school baseball. 

Word that the Yankees have already narrowed their coaching search to two men currently outside of the organization shows they already had some idea about who would be the team’s next hitting coach. I do not mind the firing of Lawson. The stories of Anthony Volpe turning around his season thanks to advice from prospect Austin Wells reflected poorly on Lawson. Aaron Hicks’ rediscovery of hitting in Baltimore is another sign that something is not working in the Bronx. I certainly do not wish the Yankees had retained Hicks. It was time for a change of scenery for all concerned, but it does underscore the Yankees’ inability to get the most out of their players. 

Brian Cashman received permission from managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner on Saturday to replace Lawson. Cashman, in making the change on Sunday, said, “There’s an opportunity here.” He went on to say, “I believe that we do have more than capable players to find higher ground than we found in the first half. I’m looking for a unique personality that will blend and connect with that group of players, as well as some of the players that I currently have on the injured list.”

Fans quickly speculated about names like Paul O’Neill and Jorge Posada. I doubt that ‘Grandfather Paul’ will leave the cozy part-time schedule of the television booth, and I am not sure what Posada is up to these days but I am equally unsure about how his intensity would play as a coach. If the Yankees take the ex-player route, Brett Gardner stands out as a former team leader who could connect with the players and help improve performance. 

Brett Gardner (Photo Credit: New York Yankees)

I think it is more likely the Yankees go with a proven hitting coach than take a chance on another first-timer. I am not sure who it will be, but hopefully, Cashman is right about finding a unique personality who can connect with every hitter on the active roster. 

If the Yankees continue to under-perform in the second half, Steinbrenner needs to, finally, re-evaluate his current manager and general manager. Firing Lawson does not guarantee success. It is simply the first change that could lead to a bigger coaching staff purge if things do not get better. At some point, Hal must look at the man most responsible for the current mess…Brian Cashman. 

I hope the Lawson firing leads to better results. I hope the Yankees can kick it into high gear in the second half to get back into the playoff hunt. Any team with Gerrit Cole and Carlos Rodón leading the starting rotation has a chance (so long as the Yankees can stop the current hemorrhage caused by Luis Severino). Admittedly, I am skeptical about this year and whether the Yankees can improve. I want the team to succeed but I am just not confident they will. If they do not, the team must make greater changes. You cannot keep doing the same thing expecting different results.

The Surprising Draft Pick…

While the Yankees had been linked to shortstops as a possible first-round pick in the latest MLB Draft, I thought Sammy Stafura would be the choice. So, it was a little surprising to see the Yankees select high-schooler George Lombard, Jr with their 26th overall pick while Stafura was still on the board. Stafura slid into the second round where he was taken by the Cincinnati Reds. 

George Lombard, Jr (Photo Credit: Mark J Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports)

The first question about Lombard, Jr is whether the Yankees can sign the 18-year-old. The son of former Major Leaguer and current Detroit Tigers bench coach George Lombard has committed to Vanderbilt University. Of course, Anthony Volpe had committed to Vandy once upon a time, and he is currently the starting shortstop for the New York Yankees. I assume the Yankees have held exploratory talks with Lombard, Jr, his family, and his agent, to have some degree of confidence they can sign him.  While it is possible Lombard, Jr can raise his stock by going to college and landing higher placement in the first round, not many teams will beat the Yankees’ financial resources and there is prestige in being taken in the first round by the Yankees. It does not guarantee success, but Lombard, Jr is positioned for baseball’s greatest stage if he continues to advance as expected. 

I have seen many complaints on social media about the Yankees taking yet another shortstop. A twenty-two-year-old, only four years older than Lombard, Jr, is currently the Yankees starting shortstop. Oswald Peraza is Major League-ready in Triple-A, and there are other fine young shortstops in the organization, such as Trey Sweeney and Roderick Arias. I am not concerned about the position. There is some talk that the 6’3” and 190-pound right-handed Lombard could eventually be moved to third base or possibly to second base or the outfield. I am not going to worry about the position. It will be a few years before Lombard, Jr makes his Major League debut. The MLB Draft is littered with players who never make it.  If/when Lombard is ready for The Show, he will find his place.

MLB Analyst Harold Reynolds compared Lombard to Marcus Semien of the Texas Rangers. “The work ethic, and just the body time and body size,” according to Reynolds.

The slot value for the Yankees’ first-round pick is $3.065 million, although it seems the Yankees will need to go above slot value to discourage Lombard from heading to Vanderbilt.

Hopefully, this is the start of a long and beautiful relationship between George Lombard, Jr, and the New York Yankees.

Left Field Audition

The Yankees fared poorly in the weekend series with the Chicago Cubs, taking only one of the three games. Nevertheless, a potential left-field candidate was on display for the games. Former Los Angeles Dodger centerfielder Cody Bellinger, who signed a one-year contract with the Cubs through free agency in the off-season, homered to the right field porch Friday night, and the ease of his shot magnified how nicely the lefty-hitting Bellinger could fit into the lineup.

I know he has had his struggles, but Yankee Stadium seems tailored for him. Even in his downtimes with the Dodgers, Bellinger always kept his head held high, putting the team first, and his defensive skills never left him. Bellinger has rebounded nicely this year. He is hitting .298/.355/.491 (.359 wOBA), good for 126 wRC+ and 2.0 fWAR. He has nine home runs, twenty-nine RBIs, and eleven stolen bases. Say what you will, but he would be an upgrade in left field. 

Cody Bellinger (Photo Credit: ESPN)

Bellinger, a former NL MVP, seems like a good fit to me. He can play first base, so he represents an option other than DJ LeMahieu to back up Anthony Rizzo. Rizzo, as we know, needs his fair share of rest.  His father Clay is a former Yankee, so he has the bloodlines. Listening to Paul O’Neill talk about little Cody playing with his sons at the old Yankee Stadium was enjoyable. Cody has proven to be a better Major Leaguer than his father, and regardless of whether his family has ties to the Yankees, Cody can help make the next Yankees hitting coach’s job a little easier. 

The Bellingers: Clay, Cody, and Jennifer (Photo Credit: Jon Soo Hoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

So, I am in favor of a potential trade for Bellinger. I realize he is just a rental, but also means that the team will not have to part with high-end talent. If Bellinger is successful and the Yankees like him, I would have every expectation for the Yankees to sign him to a new contract in the off-season. Left field has been abysmal for the Yankees this season. The Yankees failed to fill their most glaring need and they are paying the price for it. Bellinger would go a long way toward righting the ship.

As always, Go Yankees!

Sunday, July 2, 2023

Keeping NYY Expectations Low...


Luis Severino (Photo Credit: Jeff Roberson/AP)

You win some, you lose some…

The Judge-less Yankees are not a threat to wreak havoc in October. They are barely a participant, holding onto the second Wild Card slot by a game on the Houston Astros, who hold the third spot, and a game-and-a-half lead in front of the Toronto Blue Jays. The Blue Jays’ inability to beat the Boston Red Sox (winless in six tries) keeps them from higher placement in the Wild Card standings.

Friday’s rainout led to a doubleheader in St Louis, Missouri on Saturday, and the Yankees promptly killed their mini two-game winning streak by getting pounded by the Cardinals, 11-4, in the rain-interrupted first game. Luis Severino, trying to pitch as badly as Domingo German did on June 22nd against the Seattle Mariners, gave up nine runs (seven earned) in four innings. Somehow, I doubt Sevy will rebound with a perfect game as German did. German’s performance against the Mariners was slightly worse (ten runs, eight earned, allowed in three-and-a-half innings of disaster), however, Severino carries greater expectations than German. The Yankees needed Severino to step up this season with Carlos Rodón and Frankie Montas on the Injured List. A record of 1-3 with a 6.30 ERA (good for -0.4 fWAR) in eight games/forty innings pitched is not exactly stepping up. Severino has the worst K/9 rate of his career (7.65; his career average is 9.86) and his HR/9 is double his career average (2.25 to 1.12). 

Although Severino is a free agent after the end of the season, I had previously expected the Yankees to re-sign him after the season. Now, I am not so sure. His dismal showing during his walk year places pressure on the Yankees to find better options. Maybe Sevy cannot bounce back with a perfect game like German did (hey, a no-hitter would be just fine!), I doubt he does, but simply put, he needs to pitch better. The chance to improve begins with the next start. There is time to right the ship. A quality start followed by another. Is it too much to ask?

The lopsided score led Manager Aaron Boone to have Josh Donaldson pitch. As much as I hate to see position players on the mound, Donaldson retired all three batters he faced. The fact that Donaldson pitched better than Severino in the game is a sad testimony of where we are with the Yankees. 

Thankfully, the Yankees won the second game of the doubleheader, 6-2. The game was much closer than the final score, and it featured a bullpen game for the Yankees, led by Ian Hamilton. The Yankees jumped out to an early 1-0 lead, only to see it immediately tied when Lars Nootbaar homered off Hamilton in the bottom of the first inning. Anthony Volpe, who was probably the star of the game, tripled in the top of the second inning, scoring Isiah Kiner-Falefa, to give the Yankees a lead they would not relinquish. His single in the top of the ninth, after Isiah Kiner-Falefa had walked, moved IKF into scoring position at third base. IKF promptly scored on a safety squeeze by Jose Trevino. Volpe scored an additional insurance run when a single to left field by Gleyber Torres brought both him and DJ LeMahieu home.  Say what you will about Volpe, but regardless of his recent struggles, he needs to continue to play at the Major League level to get better. I remain convinced it will be worth the wait.


Gleyber Torres and Anthony Volpe (Photo Credit: USATSI)

The highlight of the game was the touching reception the Cardinals fans gave to Harrison Bader when he stepped to the plate for the first time. Bader did not play the first game. The warm reception received in the nightcap impacted Bader as he touched his heart during the applause and expressed his gratitude to the fans.  I may not be a Cardinals fan, but I have long understood how strong their fan base is. It was on display with Bader. 

The lowlight was the YES Network booth discussion with Michael Kay, Jeff Nelson, and Meredith Marakovits about Luke Voit’s sleeveless jersey while playing for the New York Mets Triple-A affiliate against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.

Luke Voit

It led to Kay flexing his “dancing biceps” for the TV audience, sadly, a sight we can never unsee. 

The Yankees (46-37) failed to gain any ground over the AL East-leading Tampa Bay Rays this week. They remain nine and a half games behind. The Blue Jays appeared ready to leapfrog over the Yankees this week, but their weekend series against their Kryptonite, the Red Sox, has kept the Blue Jays a game and a half behind the Yanks. 

The Yankees open a four-game series tomorrow at Yankee Stadium against the second-place Baltimore Orioles. The O’s currently hold a three-game advantage over the Yankees in the AL East.

The Yankees need to get on a roll if they plan to make up ground. Taking anything less than three of four from the Orioles will seem like a disappointment. The Yankees’ offense, without Aaron Judge, gives little confidence they can dominate the O’s. With Gerrit Cole pitching today, he will miss Baltimore. Randy Vasquez is expected to be recalled for Wednesday’s start although he is listed as today’s starter for the RailRiders. Presumably, he will be scratched if the plans are for his promotion to make Wednesday’s start. If not, the Yankees have other plans.

Carlos Rodón completed his third rehab start. I preface it by saying he was pitching for the Yankees’ High-A affiliate in Hudson Valley. He struck out eight lower-level prospects in three-and-a-third innings. He gave up one hit and walked two batters. We should see the Yankee Stadium debut of Rodón this week. He was expected to make three rehab starts before activation and they were completed with solid results. Given Luis Severino has fallen off the cliff, the Yankees need Rodón’s presence in the rotation now more than ever. If he pitches like he did last year for the San Francisco Giants, the team should start to build some momentum. 

Rodón is expected to make his Yankee Stadium debut on Friday when Anthony Rizzo’s old team, the Chicago Cubs, are in town for a weekend series. 

Honestly, I have no expectations for the Yankees this year. I am not trying to be a pessimist, but rather a realist. If the Yankees need Aaron Judge to be “great”, then the team was poorly constructed. There is talent on the roster, but collectively, the talent and the effort have not yielded the necessary results to play with the big boys. Judge’s return remains murky at best. The hope he would be back before the All-Star Break has become hope he will return before the season’s end. The torn toe ligament casts doubt on how effective he can be until he has fully and completely recovered…an unknown timeframe.  The Yankees need an impact bat since the so-called impact bats on the roster are not providing it. 

July is the month for significant trades. However, I remain skeptical that the Yankees will make any big splashes this year. I do not see the Yankees taking on huge additional financial commitments nor do I see them moving another bevy of top prospects. Depleting the farm system for rentals has not worked out in the last couple of years.  We should probably hold off from running out to buy Juan Soto jerseys. Michael Kay has already been calling out the company line when he said that Rodón’s return is like a deadline acquisition. The cold, hard truth is these are our 2023 New York Yankees, for better or for worse. The refusal to pursue elite impact bats in free agency the last couple of years has led to the belief that we are wasting the best years of Gerrit Cole’s career. I yearn for the Yankees of old when they were a young, exciting, and over-achieving team. There is no magic with the current crew, aside from an occasional perfect game. Maybe things change when Judge and Rodón are back in full form, but maybe not. Until they can prove they are better, we continue to win some, lose some and that does not bode well for October.

Domingo German’s perfect game

I am not a fan of Domingo German.

Although I believe people deserve second chances, the stories of domestic abuse are hard to overcome.  As such, I had mixed feelings about Domingo German’s perfect game this week. It is exciting the Yankees won. It was a brilliant pitching performance regardless of the quality of the opponent. I am glad the Yankees won. The difficulty is German’s name is forever placed among Don Larsen, David Wells, and David Cone as the only pitchers to throw perfect games in Yankees history.  Gerrit Cole, Jhony Brito, Clarke Schmidt, Luis Severino, or Randy Vasquez…any of these names would have been more palatable than German as legendary franchise achievers.

While it is hard to celebrate the individual, the stats were impressive. No hits, no walks, no runs, nine strikeouts. Ninety-nine total pitches, seventy-two for strikes. German improved his season record to 5-5 and lowered his inflated ERA to 4.54. It was the first perfect game in Major League Baseball since Felix Hernandez did it in 2012. No one can ever take the perfect game away from German, and he will be talking to his grandchildren about it. Good for him. 

Domingo German and Kyle Higashioka (Photo Credit: USATSI)

I know some fans feel that German should be forgiven. Maybe so, maybe not. I have my feelings about him, and it does not make any difference to anybody. I believe it was Randy Wilkins, @pamsson on Twitter, who tweeted something to the effect that we can celebrate the accomplishment without celebrating the individual. It makes total sense to me. I can have my opinion; you can have yours. In the end, neither opinion takes away the accomplishment. 

Didi’s Return

Signed to a minor league deal with the Seattle Mariners in early June, Didi Gregorius finally made his debut for the Tacoma Rainiers (Triple-A) on Friday. His arrival had been delayed due to visa issues. Gregorius, released last year by the Philadelphia Phillies, had been playing in the Mexican Leagues before his contract with Seattle. Only 33 years old, I am glad to see Didi given another opportunity. He is certainly one of the good guys in the game.

Didi Gregorius (Photo Credit: Instagram via @sirdidig18)

Time will tell if Didi makes it back to the Major Leagues, but the challenge is within his control. I would like to see him succeed…just not against the Yankees. 

It is weird to see both Didi and Luke Voit, once considered important Yankee players, fighting for their baseball futures in Triple-A.  Gary Sanchez, currently a backup catcher for the San Diego Padres, was able to make it back. Hopefully, the same outcome awaits Didi and Voit.

As always, Go Yankees!