Saturday, February 3, 2024

Did the Yankees Stop Short? ...


Juan Soto

Yankees Offseason Shopping is seemingly over…

Before I criticize the Yankees for not doing enough to strengthen an 82-80 team, I acknowledge and credit GM Brian Cashman for acquiring one of the greatest young talents in the game…outfielder Juan Soto. His addition to the offensive lineup is a huge boost and he will help those around him. But…. If Soto is a one-year rental, I am going to temper my excitement and enthusiasm. I will be excited when he has his signature moment in Pinstripes, and we will cheer for every home run. Yet, he is only here for one year until proven otherwise. There is a real possibility that we get excited about Soto, only to watch him play for the New York Mets or Los Angeles Dodgers in 2025. So, I will hold any high praise for Cashman until if/when he can sign Soto to a long-term extension.

Early in the offseason, we had dreams of getting both Juan Soto and Yoshinobu Yamamoto. We know how that story ended. After Yamamoto signed with the Dodgers, there was hope the Yankees would sign one of the top available free-agent starting pitchers, notably Jordan Montgomery or Blake Snell. Although the team allegedly made an offer to Snell, it was short of the pitcher’s expectations (or rather those of his agent, Scott Boras), and the Yankees quickly pivoted to Marcus Stroman. While I recognize Stroman is a good pitcher, going from Yamamoto to Montgomery/Snell to Stroman is a drop-off any way you slice it.

Recent social media posts had me believing the Yankees would make a run at Corbin Burnes in July at the Trade Deadline. Then, this week (and out of nowhere), the Baltimore Orioles seized Burnes from the Milwaukee Brewers without sacrificing elite prospect talent. I am not trying to minimize shortstop Joey Ortiz or pitcher DL Hall, they are good, young players, but they were not the best of the best in the Orioles farm system. If memory serves correctly, The Greedy Pinstripes’ Daniel Burch wanted the Yankees to take Hall in the 2017 MLB Draft, when he was a top left-handed pitcher from Valdosta High School in Valdosta, GA. With the sixteenth pick of the first round in the 2017 Draft, the Yankees chose Clarke Schmidt. Hall slid to the Baltimore Orioles five picks later. At least Schmidt has not been a flame-out, but Hall, in combo with Ortiz, fetched an elite starting pitcher for the O’s. Like Soto, Burnes is a one-year rental, but I would be surprised if the Orioles do not sign him to a lucrative deal, especially if he proves to be a difference-maker for them this year. With the potential addition of new billionaire owners, the Orioles should be ready to compete with the big boys for a long time and they certainly have lots of room in the payroll for a few big contracts without breaking the bank.

Despite their unsigned status in February, I am not expecting Montgomery or Snell to fall into the Yankees’ lap. I would be highly surprised if the team signed either one given the luxury tax ramifications which would double the cost of the player’s contract. I am also not optimistic about a trade for Dylan Cease of the Chicago White Sox, but even then, he is not Corbin Burnes.

The Yankees are, apparently, ready to go to war with Gerrit Cole and question marks. Carlos Rodón and Nestor Cortes, Jr must prove they can stay healthy and can be the pitchers they were in 2022. There are questions about Stroman’s health given his bout with injuries last August. He is healthy now, but of course, that is what we thought about Rodón and Cortes this time last year. I probably have the most confidence, aside from Cole, in Clarke Schmidt. Although his early season starts last year were concerning, he showed growth and improvement, and his upward progression should continue as expected.

Clarke Schmidt (Photo Credit: @clarkeschmidt via Instagram)

Honestly, I wish I felt better about the starting rotation. If all the pitchers perform to their respective abilities and avoid injuries, the pitching staff will be a strength. Yet, Murphy’s Law always prevails. If anything can go wrong, it will. If the Yankees are forced to depend on starts by unproven minor-league pitchers, all of us will take our lumps. Not an effective way to play catch-up with the stacked Orioles, the always annoying Rays, and the ‘one of these years they will put it all together’ Blue Jays.

I like the feeling of confidence on days when Gerrit Cole is pitching. Win or lose, you know it will be a competitive game, and the opposing pitcher must bring his “A” game if he expects to beat the Yankees ace. I wish there were more guys on the starting staff who inspire the same or close to similar confidence for the fan base. Yamamoto would have been one of those guys, even though he has never thrown a pitch in a Major League regular season. Jordan Montgomery is not the same pitcher he was in Pinstripes. He is better. Not “ace-like” better, but still. Snell certainly falls into the ace category regardless of your feelings about how he pitches. As good as Stroman is, I was never concerned when he was the opposing pitcher with the Toronto Blue Jays. I remember when it seemed like Baltimore’s Mike Mussina was always shutting down the Yanks until he became one. Stroman does not bring that same aura…at least not for me.

When the starting pitching door closed, it seemed like the Yankees might bolster the pen. But one by one, the available free-agent names have fallen off the board. The best reliever, Josh Hader, is now a Houston Astro. Former Yank Wandy Peralta joined Michael King, Kyle Higashioka, Jhony Brito, Randy Vasquez, and Drew Thorpe in San Diego. I thought the Yankees would re-sign Keynan Middleton, but he went to the St Louis Cardinals. Phil Maton is close to signing with the Tampa Bay Rays. Not much left. It appears the Yankees will look in-house to help round out the pen, barring any last-minute signings or trades. I do not blame the Yankees for passing on Wandy. He was a good Yankee, but the Yankees got the best years of his career. Let the Padres tie up the years and dollars for the declining asset.

While Spring Training is still several weeks away and the Yankees may make some moves, they are finished. They will look to the farm system for help (Luis Gil, Clayton Beeter, Will Warren, and others) and will reassess in the days leading up to the trade deadline later this summer. I hope they have done enough even if I do not believe they have.

Yankees, PLEASE prove me wrong.

Binder Joe is Back

I was surprised to see the YES Network has added former Yankees manager Joe Girardi as a TV analyst for the 2024 season. Not that I do not believe Joe brings value but being placed in a role that can potentially criticize current Yankees manager Aaron Boone seems like an odd twist of fate. I do not pine for the return of Girardi as Yankees manager. He served his time. I would have graciously accepted his return in 2018, but it was not to be and just like the team has moved on, so have I. If Boone is replaced in the next few years, Girardi will not be the chosen one. If Girardi were such a great manager, he would still be the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, or other teams would have been burning up the phone lines trying to get a hold of him.

Joe Girardi (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Aside from the odd pairing of the former Yankees manager with the YES Network, I look forward to his in-season contributions. I think he can easily qualify himself as a lifetime Yankee with seventeen seasons in the organization as a player or coach. He brought good insight into his past role with the MLB Network. I was not aware that he is part of the Chicago Cubs broadcast crew, but it makes sense given his history with the Cubs. Multiple paychecks are a blessing.

I will break with one of Girardi’s favored phrases (“It’s not what you want”) and say Girardi on the YES Network team IS what you want. I think he will do well for the YES Network until such a time when/if he is presented with another management opportunity (elsewhere). Welcome back to the Yankees family, Joe!

Joe Girardi (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

The YES Network’s TV analyst team paired with play-by-play announcer Michael Kay suffered from the loss of Ken Singleton to retirement and David Cone’s reduced games caused by his work with ESPN and Sunday Night Baseball. Girardi will help make up for those losses. It is wild to think Aaron Judge is the only current Yankee on the roster when Girardi last managed the Yankees in 2017. I am sure Yankee fans will be waiting for him to question Boone’s managerial decisions. I suspect he will take the high road, but time will tell.

I would not mind it if the Yankees hired Buck Showalter again now that he is free of his Mets-obligation. I liked Showalter’s in-studio work before he got the Mets job.

As always, Go Yankees!