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!

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