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!

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