Saturday, May 18, 2024

We (Yankees Fans) Were Wrong...


Clarke Schmidt (Photo Credit: Steve Nesius/AP)

The Emergence of the Team’s Best Pitchers…

For most of the past offseason, I was focused on the Yankees finding help for the upper echelon of the starting rotation. I was on board with the ‘Sign Jordan Montgomery or Blake Snell’ train and was prepared to see good prospects leave for then-Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Dylan Cease. I was concerned about a repeated dismal performance by Carlos Rodón in his second tour of duty. I was a little uneasy about having Luis Gil and Clarke Schmidt as rotation dependents after ace Gerrit Cole landed on the Injured List to start the season.  I did not envision Marcus Stroman as “the” primary pitching acquisition (or rather the only one). With no offense to Marcus, who has been great both on and off the field, my sights were aimed at a solid number two starter.  Stroman is 100% a guy every team needs, and I am glad he is a Yankee, so I am not trying to diminish his value to the team. Yet, when the season started with Gerrit Cole on the shelf, I was concerned that the Yankees lacked an elite starter to make up for Cole’s absence. However, the team's resilience and the emergence of our current pitchers have given us hope and optimism for the season ahead.

Despite previous doubts, Brian Cashman and his team of strategists operate on a different level. They had faith in Clarke Schmidt, believed Luis Gil was a better fit in the starting rotation than the bullpen, and were convinced Carlos Rodón would return to the form he displayed for San Francisco in 2022. They were right on all counts. Meanwhile, I swung and missed with a strikeout on that trio of hopes, as I did not believe any of them would pan out. I was not alone. Many in the Yankees Universe shared my skepticism. Every time Luis Castillo shines in Seattle, Luis Severino shows glimpses of his former self in Queens, or Dylan Cease dazzles in his new San Diego uniform, the Yankees fan base yearns for what could have been. Yet, the most viable solutions were already on the Yankees roster.

It would not be fair to compare Jordan Montgomery's or Blake Snell's current stats with those of Schmidt and the others, considering that Monty and Snell did not benefit from complete spring training. But one thing is clear: Schmidt, Gil, and Rodón were precisely what the team needed, and regardless of what Montgomery or Snell achieved for the rest of the season, our guys are holding their own.

At age 28, Schmidt cemented his place in the rotation this season. I am grateful he was not included in the Juan Soto trade over the winter. As much as I hated to see Michael King go, losing Schmidt would have been worse. In nine starts, Schmidt is 5-1 with a 2.49 ERA. He has fifty-five strikeouts in 50 2/3 innings. He may not be Gerrit Cole, but he has given the Yankees a reliable rotation starter who gives the Yankees a chance to win every time he takes the mound. He continues to improve (much like his growth curve last season) and has rewarded the patience the Yankees have afforded him.

Luis Gil, 26, has posted remarkably similar stats. He is 4-1 with a 2.51 ERA in eight starts and has 48 strikeouts in 43 innings of work. Schmidt and Gil deserve much credit for the team’s strong 2024 start after last year’s disappointing 82-80 season.

Luis Gil (Photo Credit: @Yankees via X)

It can be argued that Nestor Cortes, Jr is the weak link in the starting rotation, yet he held the Chicago White Sox to only one unearned run over seven innings on Friday night. The starting rotation, collectively, has provided consistency, reliability, and dependability for the first two months of the season. It masked the slow starts by some of the team’s offensive stars. The bullpen gets tremendous credit, significantly Closer Clay Holmes, who has taken ‘bend but not break’ to a higher level; however, the Yankees would not be where they are without their starters.

I am proud of all five current starters, even with a few hiccups along the way. Determining who will lose their starting gig will be difficult when The Ace returns from the Injured List. This stuff has a way of working itself out, but as it stands today, I would move Nestor to the swingman role. Schmidt and Gil have proven their worth, and their highest and best use is starting pitching. Nestor shows he can be a strong rotation option (as he displayed on Friday night in the Yankees’ 4-2 win over the White Sox), but his talents are better suited for a swing role. Once upon a time, Ramiro Mendoza was one of my favorite Yankees in that role. Cortes can be as good, if not better. It is funny that it is the role I had envisioned Gil for before the season began, but like anything, opinions can change. We live in a ‘what have you done for me lately’ world.

I am glad I was wrong about the state of the Yankees’ starting pitching…or that WE were wrong as I do not recall hearing many Yankees fans who were screaming ‘Maintain the Status Quo!’ about the team’s starting pitching during the most recent session of the Hot Stove League a few months ago.

I am sorry for not believing in them during the offseason. I am incredibly proud of how most of the Yankees’ pitchers have delivered this year. It is too early to forecast a World Series, and the Yankees need to figure out a way to beat the Baltimore Orioles, yet I am excited about this Yankees team. This season has a unique feel, regardless of how it ends.

Pick up the phone, Hal…

If there was ever a player the Yankees should negotiate with in-season, Juan Soto is that guy. It has been easy to see how he plays the game on a higher level. Like any player, he is susceptible to slumps, but it is hard to find a more lethal player when he is right. He was exactly as advertised, only better. Fans clamored for years that Soto would be perfect for the Yankees’ lineup, and unlike the previous topic regarding starting pitching, the fans were correct.

Juan Soto (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Soto looks like he enjoys life as a Yankee, and there is no doubt that we appreciate him. Hal Steinbrenner needs to proceed with an offer that entices Scott Boras to negotiate an extension for his prized client before the player reaches free agency. Scott’s history indicates that he will let the free agent wars decide Soto’s next contract, but I am hopeful there is recognition of how much Soto and the Yankees need each other. Regardless of when the next contract is written, Soto will be financially set for the rest of his life.

It is positive to hear Hal Steinbrenner openly discuss possible negotiations this week. Steinbrenner generally steers clear of that talk and avoids in-season negotiations. Again, Soto is the exception to the rule. Break the bank. Keep the guy in Pinstripes. He will wear those pinstripes to the Hall of Fame one day. Although it has subsided recently, I am tired of the Soto-to-the-Mets talk.

It is time for Hal to call Scott Boras. This is the first step to a powerful payday that hopefully ensures Juan Soto calls the Bronx home for years to come.

Help is on the way…

Oswald Peraza and Tommy Kahnle have been on rehab assignments and should be ready for activation before the month ends. I feel bad for Jon Berti, but he appears to be the odd one out when Peraza and DJ LeMahieu return to the active roster. LeMahieu began his rehab assignment on Friday to be ready to join the team in early June. I want to see Peraza spend less time in Triple-A. He needs to play at the Major League level, whether with the Yankees or another team. I prefer the Yankees, but for the player’s sake, he deserves a Major League opportunity if the Yankees will not play him.

Oswald Peraza (Photo Credit: Mike Carlson/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

We have yet to see much of Kahnle on his latest tour in Pinstripes. I hope he stays healthy and becomes a force in the pen again. He has long been one of my favorites, and I want him to succeed. It is not like everybody in the bullpen is killing it right now. If Kahnle rebounds to form, there is room to push out guys not named Clay Holmes or Luke Weaver.

I am happy to see Peraza, Kahnle, and LeMahieu close to returning. The Yankees have some tough decisions ahead as they maneuver the active roster. There will be some hard choices to make. I have no idea where the Yankees will play Jasson Dominguez, who is also rehabbing. Before the season, it was easy to say Alex Verdugo should be the odd one out, but now I am unsure. Verdugo has done better than expected, and the formerly unlikable player has become likable. Dominguez can be the better player, and the Yankees have more extended control over him, so Dominguez makes the most sense to stay. Yet, trading Verdugo does not make sense, even if he will be a free agent at the end of the season. Maybe rethink it in July, but Verdugo is part of the magical chemistry the team has exuded this season. As much as I like Dominguez, I am trying to think about his return when it happens. I know I am not ready to part ways with Verdugo. I hope this sorts itself out to everyone's mutual satisfaction.

As always, Go Yankees!

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