Saturday, January 21, 2023

The January of No Action...


Yankees quiet as Spring Training approaches…

The 2023 New York Yankees are about as productive as the United States House of Representatives in the 118th U.S. Congress.

Despite the addition of high-powered executives Brian Sabean and Omar Minaya, the sounds from the Yankees’ front office have been eerily silent three weeks into the new year.  For Brian Cashman, this could be the calm before the storm as we know he likes to lay in the weeds before he pounces. Or it could be what it is…the Yankees are content with the changes made and are ready to dance with the current roster regardless of whether we think they should have done more to move the needle.

Admittedly, I had bought into those who said the Yankees left fielder for this season is not yet on the roster, but the closer we get to pitchers and catchers reporting to Tampa in mid-February, it seems less likely there will be any further moves. Best case scenario seems to be a trade in Spring Training before the team heads north to start the season. Trades have been rare this offseason, but maybe yesterday’s Twins-Marlins trade that saw AL batting champion Luis Arraez head to Miami for RHP Pablo Lopez and prospects will open things up.

I do not expect the Yankees to sign left fielder Jurickson Profar, perhaps the best available free agent option remaining on the board. MLB Trade Rumors reported yesterday that the Yankees do not want to cross the highest luxury tax tier, the so-called Steve Cohen Tax on payroll above $293 million. The Yankees are bumping up against the tier, making the addition of a Scott Boras client improbable.

Spotrac is currently reporting the Yankees’ projected luxury tax payroll to be $291,229,921.  Roster Resource shows $292,331,667; and Cot’s Contracts is projecting $288,551,667. I did not analyze the differences, but regardless of how you look at current payroll, the Yankees are bumping up against the highest tier. It shows no additions can be made without subtractions if we truly believe Hal Steinbrenner will not venture into Cohen tax territory. 

Recognizing this is not the truth, the outside perception is the Yankees are essentially saying that we are unable to find a taker for Aaron Hicks (i.e., nobody wants him), therefore, by default, he is our starting left fielder. In what level of insanity does that make sense? The Yankees have made two notable failed attempts for left field. The Joey Gallo trade of 2021; and the Andrew Benintendi trade of 2022. Benny would have been a great addition if not for the unfortunate injury, and then the Yankees let the Chicago White Sox outbid them for Benny’s services this winter so regardless of some nice brief work, it did not provide sustained success. If the Yankees did not believe in Aaron Hicks in July 2022, why should they believe in him now? I am tired of hearing he is ‘healthy now’. We know, by proven history, it is a façade and a short-term situation. Good health and Aaron Hicks do not go together. Then, there is the question of attitude and desire. At times, he seems so aloof in the outfield. It negates any positive play for him.

I so want Estevan Florial to have a baseball epiphany and come into Spring Training with a newfound skill of identifying pitches with high success, and crushing every pitch thrown to him in the strike zone.  Sadly, we know it is a fictional dream.  Yet, I will give him the benefit of the doubt for no other reason than I do not want to see Aaron Hicks as the starting left fielder. Perhaps Florial and Oswaldo Cabrera, in a platoon, can hold down the position until the trading deadline. The sad part of yet another trade deadline deal for a left fielder is how many prospects the team has already given up with the failed search to replace Brett Gardner. 

For the conundrum, the Yankees can look no further than last March’s trade with Minnesota that brought Josh Donaldson, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and Ben Rortvedt to the Bronx. Collectively, Donaldson and IKF will cost the Yankees $31 million toward luxury tax payroll this season. With money like that, you could buy a rather decent left fielder. Instead, we have two players most fans would prefer to see elsewhere. Throw in Aaron Hicks’ $10 million and it shows that one should never trust Brian Cashman’s financial decisions. He is clearly not maximizing the value of every dollar. 

I am a little frustrated the Yankees, so far, have chosen to do nothing about their weakest link. The Yankees have not closed ground on the Houston Astros. The Astros may have lost Justin Verlander, but they have proven the ability to produce elite starting pitchers. I doubt the loss of Verlander is going to derail their team. They lost one of the best shortstops in baseball prior to last season, and the replacement is the 2022 World Series MVP. They now have Jose Abreu manning first base over Yuli Gurriel which is an upgrade. There is no reason to believe the Astros will not be playing in the American League Championship Series this fall.  On the other hand, their ALCS opponent-to-be is wide open. 

The Yankees are better with Carlos Rodón. But how much better remains to be seen. Jameson Taillon, the man he replaced, is a good pitcher. No doubt Rodón is the superior starter, but it does not close the gap with Houston. The problem in last year’s ALCS was not pitching, it was hitting. To put it lightly, the team’s ability to hit was offensive and I do not mean that positively. They were awful and could have used guys like DJ LeMahieu and Andrew Benintendi. I thought there would be an offseason push to find players with similar bat-to-ball skills. 

DJ LeMahieu’s return is huge yet not enough. I enjoyed the video I saw this week of DJ working out in Tampa with Gleyber Torres. 

Video link with credit to Bryan Hoch, @BryanHoch and Marc C, @MarcNYY618 on Twitter: Gleyber and DJ

He seems to be moving nicely and the images of him playing third base reinforce how much I would prefer to see him there over Josh Donaldson. The concern is obviously health. The toe injury was resolved through only rest, and I carry a fear that he will reaggravate the injury. The Yankees need LeMahieu, and his ability to stay on the field for the duration of the season will go a long way toward determining October success. 

As a fan, I am frustrated the Yankees spent so much on Aaron Judge and Carlos Rodón in addition to what they are paying Gerrit Cole, only to leave the team as vulnerable as it has been. They could have done more to field the best possible roster, arguably without spending more money. Other teams routinely move bad contracts. It takes prospects and retention of some of the financial commitment, but they do it. For the Yankees, the bad contracts hang like an albatross until the end. Josh Donaldson, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and Aaron Hicks are literally preventing the Yankees from becoming better because they cannot perform to the level of their contracts. 

These are the best years of Gerrit Cole and Aaron Judge. The Yankees should not waste them with underperformers in key roles. I would love to see a 26-man roster that I am genuinely excited about when the team trots out on the field at Yankee Stadium in late March. There is still time for Brian Cashman to make it happen, but it seems with each passing day, the roster is what it is. Hoping for good health and rebounds from multiple players.  Sure, what could go wrong…

Bad Day for Former Top Prospects

It was wild to see two former top Yankees prospects designated for assignment yesterday, on the same day. Miguel Andújar was designated by the Pittsburgh Pirates to clear space for the return of Andrew McCutcheon. In Seattle, the Mariners DFA’d Justus Sheffield after signing veteran infielder Tommy LaStella.

Andújar, scheduled to make $1.525 million this season, seems likely to remain in the Pirates organization unless some team is willing to take a flyer. Doubtful that Andújar would forego his contract if no team claims him on waivers, making it a high probability that he is assigned outright to Indianapolis (AAA). He should get an invitation to Spring Training so he may have another opportunity with the Pirates (assuming no team claims him).

Miguel Andújar

Sheffield seems likelier to be claimed or traded. It was not that long ago he was a highly touted prospect, and there are pitching coaches who may think they could be the difference-makers. He only made $760,800 last season and has an option remaining. No doubt someone tries to uncork the potential that has alluded the Yankees and the Mariners. Maybe Sheffield is just one of those guys who does not get it until he reaches his thirties. He is only 26 (turns 27 in May) so there is time for him to discover success.

It would have been cool if Clint “Jackson” Frazier had been DFA’d too but unfortunately, he was cut by the Chicago Cubs back in October and has not yet hooked on with a new team.

Ah, the prospect-hugging days of Andújar, Sheffield, and Frazier seem like they were only yesterday.

Note to the Toronto Blue Jays

Shut up! Until you can win the AL East and advance in the playoffs, your words sound as truthful and mature as New York Representative George Santos. 

Whether it is new Blue Jay Brandon Belt saying "We should be the World Series favorites this year" or Vladimir Guerrero saying the Yankees were the easiest team to beat in 2022, the words are hollow for a team that has done nothing on the field to back up their words.  

Shelley Duncan returns to the Yankees Family

Former Yankees prospect Shelley Duncan may have never found success as a big leaguer for the team, but he is back in the organization as the newest manager of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. 

Duncan replaces Doug Davis who managed the RailRiders for the past two seasons. Davis has since been named the manager of the Round Rock Express, the Triple A affiliate for the Texas Rangers.

Duncan was analytics coordinator for the Chicago White Sox for the past two seasons. He played 68 games for the Yankees between 2007 and 2009, batting .219/.290/.411 with eight home runs and 24 RBIs. He found a few more opportunities with Cleveland (but not much more success) before ending his career with the Rays in 2013. An interesting stat is that he hit exactly eleven home runs and scored 29 runs in each of his three seasons with Cleveland.

It is always good to see old friends find their way home. Congrats and best of luck, Shelley! Your job is simple. Accelerate the exit of Anthony Volpe on a bus bound for New York. 

Farewell to Sweeny Murti

I was disappointed to see the announcement yesterday that Yankees beat reporter Sweeny Murti has left WFAN after 30 years. He did not announce his plans. I wish Sweeny the best in whatever he does next, but the Yankees beat will not be the same without him. I have much respect for his professionalism, and he was easily one of the better team reporters to follow. 

Sweeny posted this farewell on Twitter.

We wish you the best for what is next, Sweeny. We are confident you will bring your high class, superior professionalism, and elite expertise to your next adventure, with the usual exceedingly outstanding success.  We have been blessed by your presence in the Yankees Universe. 

As always, Go Yankees!