2020 Yankees- Depth is the Key (Guest Post by Ed Botti)
Editor’s Note – We received this article last Saturday for a guest post. This was prior to Larry Rothschild’s firing. Ed predicted this. He was ahead of the curve. We decided to leave his prediction in the article as he originally wrote it.
As I headed out to lunch earlier this week, I turned on my radio and found out that Aaron Hicks needs the dreaded Tommy John surgery. Two weeks after we were all told he avoided it, and only five days since he started ALCS Game 6. In addition, we found out that Masahiro Tanaka has already had arthroscopic surgery to remove bone spurs in his pitching arm, and that Luke Voit has already had surgery for the core issues he had late in the season. (Ironically, Greg Bird is healthy, hitting and playing ball in the Dominican Republic.)
That’s Baseball, Suzyn!
Most likely Hicks’ surgery will sideline him to at least next June and possibly as far out as August. This means that in his age 31 season, Hicks will be sidelined for at least half of it, and have to rehab from the game’s most time consuming injury. He also had six more years of a contract on the books for the Yankees. I wonder what the thought process was when the Yankees extended Hicks for seven years. During the first seven years of his career, he has averaged only 93 games played a season. He is a great athlete, but he is also injury prone. When you throw in Jacoby Ellsbury, who hasn’t played since the end of 2017, it’s pretty clear that the Yankees have been somewhat snake bitten when it comes to signing center fielders in the recent past.
This brings to mind, that moving forward, the Yankees need to continue their focus and investments on providing depth and building their 40-man roster.
2019 was a thesis on acquiring or promoting players for the specific purpose of adding depth. Gio Urshela, Mike Ford, Mike Tauchman, Edwin Encarnacion and Cameron Maybin are great examples of the fine work that Brian Cashman and his scouting staff did this past season.
The question is, can they do it again while also adding to the roster at least one, maybe two quality starting pitchers and possibly bullpen pieces? Improving on a team that won 103 games in 2019 is a tall order, but it can be done.
I think they should start by extending the qualifying offer to Didi Gregorius, and keep intact a championship level infield, and the back up support players that we know will be needed over 162 games in 2020.
The outfield is a little more cluttered and ambiguous. We all know right field is set, as Aaron Judge has proven to be the real deal on both sides of the ball. Giancarlo Stanton, like it or not, is not going anywhere. But, who plays center field next year, and who provides the depth? Do they retain Brett Gardner and Cameron Maybin? Was Mike Tauchman the real deal? Where does Clint Frazier fit? Will Estevan Florial stay healthy enough to develop in the minor leagues? And is Tyler Wade a good enough hitter to be given a chance to use his speed and versatility? For a 100-win team, those are a lot of questions in the outfield.
Behind the plate seems a little clearer. Gary Sanchez is a young power hitting catcher, with a great arm, and who I believe calls a great game. On the downside, he continues to get into fielding slumps and has mechanical flaws in his blocking balls in the dirt technique, and what appears to be, on some occasions, a lackadaisical approach. I believe that some of his defensive issues in the ALCS were a direct result of having to catch five or six different pitchers a game, all with different repertoires, and all throwing in excess of 95 MPH with nasty movement. That is not an easy thing to do. Hitting wise, I think Sanchez gets himself in the home run mode, and has a hard time changing his approach when he stars focusing on the long ball. I believe that Sanchez can be worked with by his coaches and is young enough to make adjustments. Keeping Austin Romine as Sanchez’s back-up would be preferable, as is having Kyle Higashioka in Scranton to provide excellent depth.
As far as the rotation is concerned, the Yankees lost CC Sabathia to retirement after a great career, and it does not seem likely to me that Domingo German will ever wear the pinstripes again. Those are two arms they need to replace. Among young candidates, we have Jordan Montgomery who will be healthy this spring along with Mike King, Albert Abreu, and Deivi Garcia who will all be looked at as well. In my opinion, Johnny Loáisiga is more a bullpen piece, not a starter, since he has command problems on his secondary pitches.
The Yankees’ rotation will have James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Severino, and J.A. Haap as the first four. Not terrible, but not exactly the 1998 Yankees’ staff. This staff needs work. Depth in the rotation is never an easy proposition. The Yankees will use at least nine or ten starters next year (12 were used in 2019) which leaves many openings to fill. The popular theory is that Gerrit Cole is a legitimate option for the Yankees…
But, the Yankees need to be very careful. Historically, there are not too many successful long term contracts signed for starting pitchers. Cole will be entering his age 30 season, and has pitched 615 innings over the last three years. Not to be forgotten is his agent is Scott Boros, and he will be looking for a long term contract, somewhere similar to Chris Sale’s 5-year contract or even David Price’s 7-year contract (both, bad back end contracts), and most likely exceeding $230 Million. Is that a risk worth taking? I’m not sure.
Madison Bumgarner is another option, and may actually be a better one then Cole. Although his ERA is trending upward every season since 2016, he did throw 207 innings this year and only 447 the last three years. With a bad ball club, Bumgarner was 9-9 with a 3.90 ERA in 2019. However, his post season statistics are excellent, and as we all know in New York, nothing matters more then what you do in October. The year before Justin Verlander was an Astro he was 10-8 with a 3.82 ERA. Going to a new club rejuvenated him, could that be possible for Bumgarner who is much younger? The market might be right for the Yankees to acquire him, and it will not be nearly as costly as the Cole market. By saving money there, the Yankees will have more resources to fill other holes.
Opening up the purse strings is not the only answer to improving the pitching staff in 2020. The Yankees have tradeable assets, and will need to be aggressive in the trade market this winter. As much as I like Miguel Andujar and Clint Frazier, they do not have a set position on this team. Because of this, they might as well be used to improve other areas of the team, most notably starting pitching.
One more consideration to take into account while building the depth of the 2020 pitching staff is that there may be a very good chance that Larry Rothschild leaves and become Joe Girardi’s pitching coach in Philadelphia, which might not be such a bad thing for the Yankees. Sometimes, a change in approach adds significant value, and this just may be the case with the Yankees. Aaron Boone never got to pick his own pitching coach, so this may be the time for him to do so. David Cone may be the perfect fit.
Brian Cashman has made many outstanding deals and found many diamonds in the rough during his tenure. Unfortunately, not many have been starting pitchers. Who can forget Javier Vazquez, Michael Pineda, Carl Pavano, Shawn Chacon, Brandon McCarthy, Sonny Gray, or Kei Igawa, to name a few. It’s the one area that leaves much to be desired, by the Yankees GM. Based on his dialog this week with WFAN’s Sweeney Murti, I think he knows it as well.
The Bullpen is the defensive strength of the Team. However, even that has issues and decisions to be made in 2020. Do they resign Dellin Betances and does Aroldis Chapman opt out? If neither are back, where do they find the replacements and depth? Chad Green, Adam Ottavino and Tommy Kahnle are solid from the right side, and Zack Britton is solid from the left side. Is Ben Heller for real? Do they add a lefty?
A busy winter is ahead for the front office and scouts.
The good news is that a young core is in place and is hungry to be remembered as winners. I’m looking forward to an exciting off-season and a terrific 2020!