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!

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