About Last Night: The All-Star Break Begins
By Tim Kabel
July 19, 2022
The Yankees finished the nominal first half of the season at 64-28, the best record in the Major Leagues. Because of games that were canceled at the beginning of the season due to the lockout, they will resume play with a doubleheader on Thursday against the Astros in Houston. That will end their season series against the Astros. Undoubtedly, they should meet in the playoffs.
Clearly, the first half of the season has been a rousing success for the Yankees. Some of us expected that they would play very well this year but, I don't think anyone expected them to play this well. The Yankees lead the division by 13 games over Tampa Bay. Only five games separate the Rays, Blue Jays, Red Sox, and Orioles. No team in the American League East is below .500 at this point in the season. As we take a moment to catch our breath before the second half, it is a good time to take stock of the team, and to see what, improvements can be made.
Upgrades on a baseball team are a lot like upgrades on a house. It would always be nice to add an in-ground pool but, how much will it cost? There are people advocating that the Yankees acquire Juan Soto, Luis Castillo, and other top players. The only problem is that such moves would deplete the farm system. I suggest a more pragmatic approach. At the beginning of the season, many fans believed the Yankees needed to upgrade dramatically in the positions of catcher, shortstop, and the outfield, particularly centerfield. Well, some of those areas have been solidified to the point where there are no longer concerns. Jose Trevino is the primary catcher at this point and is doing an excellent job. He had a reputation as a tremendous defensive catcher but, he is also hitting 251 with 7 home runs and 27 RBI and is an All-Star. Kyle Higashioka has resumed his traditional role as the primary backup. Ben Rortvedt is now playing rehab games in the minors and could be called up in the second half, if needed. The advantage with him is that he is a left-handed batter. He is also highly regarded as a defender The Yankees pitchers all love Trevino and Higashioka. Making a major move at catcher at this point in the season, could be a huge mistake. The Yankee seem to be set at catcher
Centerfield has more or less resolved itself. It's not that the Yankees acquired a new centerfielder. Instead, they shifted Aaron Judge over to become the primary centerfielder. There are concerns playing that position will put extra wear and tear on him as the team heads toward the playoffs. Ideally, he could be moved back to rightfield if the team were to acquire a true centerfielder. There have been rumors the Yankees are interested in the Pirates’ Bryan Reynolds, or possibly Cedric Mullins from the Orioles. Well, The Orioles are playing extremely well and have a shot at making a wild card run. I don't believe that Cedric Mullins will be going anywhere. Reynolds is a more realistic possibility but, then you get into the issue of cost. The Pirates would most likely demand several top prospects. That is not a price I'd be willing to pay, when there are other, more realistic solutions.
First and foremost, Joey Gallo needs to go. He fits this team and New York City about as well as Paul Lynde would have fit in the role of Vito Corleone in the Godfather. (Although, just imagine him singing “Kids” in the scene where Sonny interrupts the meeting with Virgil Sollozzo.) The Yankees need to cut their losses and let Gallo go. They need to face the fact that they will never get back the same haul in prospects they spent to get him last year. That really doesn't matter at this point. The important thing is to get him off the team. Whatever they get is a bonus. Two buckets of bubble gum, a bag of baseballs, and a “Marvelous” Marv Throneberry bobblehead doll would seem an adequate price for another team to pay. As far as getting another outfielder to replace him, I don't think they need to. Matt Carpenter is everything Joey Gallo was supposed to be, and more. Plus, he did not cost any prospects. He is not a spectacular outfielder but, he's more than adequate and he works very hard. Look at everything he did to regain his swing. He is perfectly capable of playing the outfield on a semi-regular basis. The Yankees can always make a defensive substitution for him in the later innings.
Ideally, the Yankees would like to move Aaron Judge back to rightfield. They have the means to do that at their disposal. Estevan Florial is finally putting things together in Scranton Wilkes-Barre. He is batting .300 and has 37 extra base hits, with 12 home runs and 33 RBI. He also has 28 stolen bases. He will not turn 25 until November. It seems as if the Yankees have been waiting forever for him to blossom. Don't forget, he came into the Yankees’ system at age 17. He was also injured many times. It is interesting to note that the other night, he played left field in the minors. I would like to see the Yankees bring him up and have him play centerfield most of the time. Aaron Judge has been great there and I don't think the team wants to send the wrong message by completely yanking him out of the position. He could ease back to right with Florial playing center most of the time. The other corner outfield position could be played by Carpenter and Stanton. Aaron Hicks would be the extra outfielder and the late inning defensive replacement for Carpenter and possibly Stanton.
Shortstop remains a concern, because Isiah Kiner-Falefa is exactly what he was advertised to be. He is a stop-gap measure. He is holding down the fort until one of the prospects is ready. Kiner-Falefa leads the league in errors at shortstop. True, he gets to a lot of balls other short stops would not get too but, he still leads the league in errors and his throwing arm from that position is not very reliable. He is batting .271 but, has zero home runs. While the Yankees don't need their shortstop to be a home run threat, the thought he could potentially do so at least once a year would change the strategy for the opposition. Kiner-Falefa has always seemed best suited to a backup role. He won the Gold Glove previously playing third base and I'm certain he could play second very well also. In an absolute pinch, he could come in as catcher too.
Oswald Peraza, after an ice-cold start in Scranton, has taken off. He is hitting .248, with 12 home runs and an OPS of .751. He also has 20 stolen bases and is an excellent fielder If the Yankees call up Peraza and install him as the starting shortstop, Kiner-Falefa would assume the backup infielder role, and Marwin Gonzalez could be released. If Peraza completely collapsed, Kiner-Falefa would still be there to take back the reins at shortstop. However, I don't believe that will happen. The team has such a sizable lead, and such a great clubhouse that there would be very little pressure on Florial and Peraza. I suspect they would flourish at the Major League level.
By upgrading the team from within and removing only Joey Gallo and Marwin Gonzalez from the roster, the Yankees will have improved a great deal at no cost. That way, if they choose to send some of their prospects out, they could do so to upgrade the bullpen and possibly, the starting rotation. It would be hard to argue that Florial and Peraza would not be upgrades over Gallo and Kiner-Falefa.
Anyway, I expect some changes as we enter the second half of the season and head toward the playoffs.