Sunday, September 17, 2023

The March to the End...


Oswald Peraza (Photo Credit: NY Daily News)

 The Yankees making Games fun again…

For as dismal as this season has been, the Yankees have been fun to watch again for the first time in a long time. ‘Let the kids play’ was a common rally cry by the fanbase earlier in the season, and now that it has happened, the team is surprisingly making winning look easy. 

I know, winning is never easy, but from perception, the team is far more competitive with the youthful core driving the team’s lackluster veterans (at least those healthy enough to play).

The youth movement suffered a blow when Jasson Dominguez was lost due to injury, but the energy the other prospects have helped to bring to the team has not slowed it down. The injury to Dominguez, a torn ulnar collateral ligament that will require surgery, alters the team’s plans for 2024 as it will keep him off the field for the next 9-10 months. Jasson is set to have the surgery on Wednesday, and the Yankees should have a better idea of the expected recovery period after the surgery, but it seems improbable that he will be back until late next season.

Jasson Dominguez (Photo Credit: Adam Hunger/AP)

From a planning strategy viewpoint, Dominguez should not factor into the decisions for next season. If anything, I hope the injury helps to make the Yankees more aggressive this offseason to ensure the team can carry its late-season success into next year. The Yankees (75-73) currently lead the Boston Red Sox by two games in the all-important race to see which team avoids the AL East cellar. With the Yankees only six games out of the Wild Card chase, some fans are hanging on to the belief that there is a chance for October play. On September 17, with just a handful of games left, the Yankees are not going to make up the ground on the two teams they need to pass, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Seattle Mariners. Since ending the nine-game losing streak on August 23, the Yankees are 16-8. I know the Yankees have six games remaining against the Blue Jays, but the odds of sweeping the Blue Jays both at home and in Toronto are low and there are simply not enough games left to make up the necessary ground. I get that as a fan we must believe until the end but as a realist, the towel has been thrown. Even if Yogi Berra once said, “it ain’t over ‘til it’s over”, this season is over. 

My goals are modest. Stay out of the AL East cellar and keep the consecutive winning season streak intact. I certainly would not complain if the Blue Jays and Mariners stopped winning games, and the Yankees leaped them to grab the last Wild Card slot, but realistically, the deck is stacked against the Yankees. With fourteen games left in the season, there is simply not enough time. The Yankees would need to be unbeatable with the Jays and Mariners unable to muster any wins.

Dominguez was the most impressive of the prospects when the Yankees decided to go young, but since he has been out, Oswald Peraza is the one showing he should have a place on next year’s team. His bat is finally starting to come around, and no one is missing Josh Donaldson’s elite glove at third base. Peraza has quietly held his own and is doing the things to help the team win. I am not saying he should be handed the third base job next season. Those are decisions the Yankees must make this offseason, but Peraza has put himself in the conversation. 

Catcher Austin Wells may not be hitting (he is currently batting .118/.162/.176 with .339 OPS and, -7 OPS+…oof!), but he has played much better behind the plate than most people expected. I am not worried about the bat. It may not be this year, but Wells WILL hit Major League pitching. It is only a matter of time until he figures it out, and then he will be an offensive force. The state of catching is in good hands. The Yankees will have a tough decision to make with Kyle Higashioka, a well-liked player, who is strong defensively and shows occasional pop. Higgy is surprisingly 33 years old already, and he enters his final year of arbitration this Fall. He seems a likely non-tender candidate if the Yankees decide to go with Wells to pair with Jose Trevino, who is expected to be ready by Spring Training. With Ben Rortvedt in ready reserve, it seems Higgy is the most probable to go. Wells can help solidify the decision if his bat starts to show some life in the next couple of weeks. 

Austin Wells (Photo Credit: AP)

I think my excitement for Everson Pereira has cooled. He has stuck out 31 times in 70 at-bats, pouring cold water on the belief that he had been making progress in reducing his strikeout rate in the minors. Unlike Wells, I am not sure if Pereira’s bat can improve to become a Major League force. He seems like the prospect most likely to receive the Estevan Florial treatment next season (banishment to Triple-A until there are no other options for the team). Even though Florial is currently the starting centerfielder for the Yankees by default, I do not expect his return next season. I think the Yankees will be moving on from him. There are other prospects that need to be protected from Rule 5 Draft eligibility, and the Yankees have shown they do not have long-term confidence in Florial. I would be surprised if Pereira and/or Florial broke camp with the Yankees next Spring.

Like the seasons before it, the Yankees will enter the offseason in need of a legitimate answer for left field, in addition to other needs. 

Not really trying to dive into plans for next year’s rebuild, but the Yankees should not let the overall positive play of the younger players deter them from making hard decisions this offseason. The one note I will make for next season is the hope the Yankees can find a way to offload Giancarlo Stanton even if they must eat part of his contract. “If” is foolish to say, it is a certainty they will have to pay part of the contract to move him. The cost of doing business. The question is whether the Yankees can find a taker.  Stanton also has a say in whether he goes, so it becomes a matter of finding a willing trade partner that is also appealing to Stanton. Southern CA probably holds the most attraction for him. Yet, the Padres seem like an unlikely option with the hefty contracts on their books, and the Angels are a mess. Do the Dodgers need Stanton? They just won the NL West for the tenth time in the last eleven years and are probably not motivated to take a chance on an aging slugger, especially with their sights on Shohei Ohtani. San Francisco was once interested in Stanton, but he was a much younger player then. It seems like the Yankees are stuck with Stanton for the long haul, but I will hold out some sense of optimism that the Yankees can find a way to move on. I like Stanton and have long admired his ability to murder baseballs. However, at this stage of his career, he seems like a detriment to a rebuilding team. A team that needs a “quick” rebuild like the Yankees. Stanton could probably find better success on a smaller stage. Not to say he cannot handle the big stage. He has always been a stand-up guy and I do not feel New York has intimidated him. Yet, playing for a team with lesser expectations could help Stanton in the long run. 

I am not trying to pour cold water on the Yankees better play in recent weeks. My outlook or perception has improved considerably from where it stood in August. Next season was looking rather gloomy, but rays of sunlight are starting to appear thanks to the energy and excitement of the younger players. The big challenge will be the offseason. Whether Brian Cashman is the general manager or not, the Yankees face their biggest offseason challenge in years. Whatever they do, the Yankees need to trust their farm system which seems to be getting stronger by the day. The days of acquiring aging third basemen with behemoth contracts should be in the rear-view mirror. Building for today with an eye for tomorrow has served the Dodgers well.  The Yankees should take note. 

Misiewicz Injury

It was horrifying to see Yankees reliever Anthony Misiewicz take a line drive off his head during Friday night’s game against the Pirates. The ball, hit by Pittsburgh’s Ju Hwan Bae, was traveling at 100.6 mph. Thankfully, Misiewicz was able to get up on his own feet before being carted off the field. He has been released from the hospital after being treated for a concussion. Head injuries can never be taken lightly, but I am hopeful his positive attitude and determined drive help will lead him to a full recovery.

Anthony Misiewicz carted off the field (Photo Credit: Gene J Puskar/AP)

The Yankees placed Misiewicz on the 7-day concussion injured list. I am hopeful he can return to the field this season; however, his health is the paramount concern so I hope to see him again when he is ready regardless of when that may be. 

Shohei Ohtani Out

Earlier this season, it looked like Shohei Ohtani might make a run at Aaron Judge’s AL Home Run Record of 62 home runs. Now, it becomes a question of whether he has played his last game as a member of the Los Angeles Angels. A UCL tear in August had shut down Ohtani, the pitcher. However, he remained on the team as a batter. Unfortunately, less than two weeks later, Ohtani had injured his oblique during batting practice. Continued oblique irritation finally led to the decision for Ohtani to halt his 2023 campaign and begin the necessary work for 2024 which will start with the elbow procedure. He cleared out his locker on Friday which gave the first signal that his season was done. 

Ohtani finishes the year with 44 home runs and 95 RBIs. He hit .304/.412/.654 with 1.066 OPS. Despite the injuries, the free-agent-to-be figures to capture a near-record contract in the upcoming offseason. I would have said ‘record contract’ but the injuries lessened the expectation if only slightly. 

Aaron Judge and Shohei Ohtani (Photo Credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

I do not harbor any belief the Yankees will sign him. I have mixed feelings about it, and the latest injuries certainly give pause to the belief he can continue his path as an elite two-way player. The day will come when he needs to focus on one or the other. That day may have already passed. I like Ohtani and I think he is fantastic for baseball. I hope he finds the right team next season. Well, anywhere outside of Boston.  I would be excited to see him in Pinstripes, I just do not think the Yankees will spend the dollars and, with so many other needs, they probably should not.  Personally, I would like to see him stay in the greater Los Angeles area to play for the Dodgers. 

As always, Go Yankees!

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