by Cary Greene
July 27, 2021
It was an up and down week for Yankee fans but Sunday proved to be a big letdown for the Bombers as they squandered Domingo German’s tremendous effort. The Bombers now sit at 20 up and 28 down in their division. The silver lining to the way things have been going for the Yankees lately is that the A’s aren’t exactly on fire, so the Wild Card deficit is back down to 3 ½ games for the Bombers. The Mariners have now closed to only 1 ½ games back.
Scratching and clawing their way through what I’ve referred to as the “gauntlet” part of the schedule this weekend and into next week, the Yankees find themselves in the most critical part of their season to date. With only five days left until the trade deadline, the Yankees still have a pulse.
I’m finding all of this very refreshing because I’ve been hoping this team would avoid collapsing and become one of the worst Yankee teams in my lifetime, such as the 1966 Yankees. I don’t remember a thing about that Yankees team because I was only one-year old when they laid the 70-89 egg and finished 26.5 games behind Brooks Robinson and the Baltimore Orioles. According to my mom, who passed away a few years ago, I was fully immersed in Gerber Blueberry Buckle and my favorite toy, which happened to be a baseball, during the forgettable season of ‘66! I have agonized through those awful teams of the early 1990s however and those teams are more along the lines of what I was praying this year’s team could avoid becoming.
Righting the ship, this year’s team is stunningly now on pace to win about 84 games, which will probably put them 12 or 13 games out of first place. Can this team do any better than that? They’ve been decimated by key injuries once again and they’ve been riddled by Covid-19 and still, they’re hanging on.
Attempting to save the Yankees season, and possibly his job later this offseason, Brian Cashman now finds himself as the architect of a franchise that is trapped in limbo, in a purgatory between maybe being a playoff team and maybe not being quite good enough. As such, the Yankees daily focus is on how to patch a lineup together for the next game and who’s available to pitch.
Pitching has been inconsistent this season for the Yankees, but they’ve also struggled to score consistently and that’s probably held this team back from being a lot better than what their record is. Gone are the days when Cashman’s Yankees could consistently bash their way to victory. The top teams in the American League all have really good pitching and the Yankees could have good pitching also, if it weren’t for the remarkable job Cashman has done while shooting himself in the foot by making numerous poor personnel decisions when it comes to pitching.
Why the Yankees Should Keep their Pitching Prospects:
With the deadline approaching, I’m terrified by what blunders Brian Cashman might make next. If he intends to be a buyer, as he says he will be, he’ll likely be faced with the proposition of whether or not to trade away pitching prospects to secure established position players who can help the sagging, struggling offense. Deadline acquisitions often involve overpaying as well, so whatever Cashman winds up doing could leave a few more carbuncles on the Yankee teams of tomorrow.
Always playing for today instead of tomorrow has been Cashman’s main fault, though he did have a brief moment during the 2016 season when he went into a bit of a rebuild on the fly mode.
Tampa Bay and Boston have both seen the light. They play for today but also are focused on tomorrow and they make move after move to keep their cupboards stocked with promotable talent. Cashman struggles to keep up with them these days, though the Yankees did draft pretty well this year (but so did Boston and Tampa). My fear is that Cashman will continue to blunder by doling out pitching prospects while making trades. The trade deadline is a perfect time of year for him to continue mismanaging the Yankee’s system.
The Yankees Bullpen is a Terrible Use of Payroll:
After all, Cashman has been steadily giving away pitching prospects capable of being high leverage bullpen pieces or starters for some time now and he’s made some awful trades that Fishman and the analytics arm of the organization obviously have signed off on as well. This strategy has caused Cashman to have to allocate close to $40 million just to put a bullpen together, which is only $10 million shy of the Cleveland Guardians entire payroll.
Cashman Should Have Kept Numerous Pitching Prospects:
Most concerning to me are Cashman’s blunders with pitching. His mistakes are costly.
Imagine, for a moment, if Cashman had given Mike Ford’s roster spot to Garrett Whitlock this offseason instead of letting the Red Sox have him for nothing. Whitlock has a 1.39 ERA this year in 48 innings and he has completely shut the NY lineup down becoming one of Alex Cora’s certified Yankee killers. Whitlock could easily be pitching for the Yankees this season.
Or, what would the Yankee bullpen look like if Cashman had hung on to J.P. Feyereisen instead of flushing him to the Brewers for almost nothing? Feyereisen was clearly going to be good, but the Yankees just couldn’t commit to an organically built bullpen plan and they had to run out and sign high priced relievers instead. Not to worry, Feyereisen is fitting right in with the Rays.
Think of how nice it would’ve been if Cashman had hung on to Zack Littell instead of trading him for Jamie Garcia? Imagine a pitching staff with Whitlock, Feyereisen and Littell locking things down – how nice would it be to have all those young, quality arms complimenting Johnathan Loaisiga and Chad Green right now?
Meanwhile, the starting rotation would look a bit stronger with Whitlock and James Kaprielian in it, don’t you think? Perhaps Sonny Gray shouldn’t have been given to the Reds for free after all, simply because he didn’t respond well to the Yankees trying to change his pitching style…
The Yankees Fail to Put the Finishing Touches on Nearly Ready Prospects:
We’ve seen a lot written about how the Yankees struggle with promoting their pitching prospects. Brian Cashman’s blunders and the Yankees lack of patience is at the core of this problem. Brooks Kriske is a perfect example. He is going to be good. All of his numbers in Triple-A suggest that he’ll be an excellent bullpen piece some day. He’s 27-years-old, and granted, he just had an epic meltdown, but we’re talking about a guy with great swing and miss stuff here. In the minors, he’s been very tough on right handed hitters and he’s gone long stretches without surrendering a run. He also has been very good at stranding inherited runners.
Kriske’s main problem in the big leagues has been controlling his secondary pitches and overreliance his fastball, which is a decent pitch that sits between 95-97mph, but because he over-uses it (62% of the time), opposing hitters are sitting on it and they’re making hard contact way too often. He features a slider which he doesn’t use nearly enough to keep hitters guessing and this two-pitch mix just isn’t setting up his dazzling out pitch, which is a really good splitter that he only recently started throwing.
Clearly Brooks Kriske is a pitcher that you continue to develop. He will break through and when he does, he’ll fit right in with any bullpen. Can the Yankees be patient with him and help him with his secondary pitches, or will the Yankees do their usual “give up on the reliever thing?”
Another such pitcher the Yankees have struggled to properly finish is Albert Abreu, who came over to the Yankees in 2016 in the Brian McCann trade. The main problem for Abreu has been his control. Abreu is a true four-pitch pitcher who has a big fastball that can touch 101mph. He’s been on and off the disabled list a lot and also was hurt by the pandemic as 2020 would have been hugely important for him from an experience standpoint. The Yankees are finally getting him into attack mode and he’s coming after people with his fastball which he’s using less but just enough. In the past, he’d predictably throw the fastball 50% of the time, but he only uses it 30% of the time. He’s using his slider a lot more now, to the tune of 34% of the time Abreu has abandoned his curve altogether, which is helping his control a little bit. Opposing batters have been looking for the fastball and they’re routinely getting on top of his off-speed pitches, which is keeping the ball on the ground a lot more this year. Abreu should be the 8th inning guy by now, but his lack of control is not helping him earn the kind of trust that would be needed for him to become a high leverage reliever.
The Yankees are really struggling to help Albert Abreu put it all together and he might be another arm they might give up on and regret. By next year, he should be a big piece in any bullpen. Don’t think opposing GM’s don’t know it.
Lack of Roster Stability:
Right now, Cashman is playing a game called “smoke and mirrors.” He’s become a day trader, over-utilizing the “Scranton Shuttle” to the point where whoever’s on the receiving end of all of his phone calls must be laughing out loud every time they hang the phone up obediently, then scream, “He wants who by tonight?” “Is Cashman serious?” This creates wacky lineups and inconsistent offensive performance.
The Yankees roster is clogged with injury prone players and this causes the team to burn the tires of the Scranton shuttle every year. This act is getting old.
Hanging On to Pitching Prospects Impacts Potential Deadline Trade Partners:
Hopefully Brian Cashman has a strong desire to hang on to pitching prospects at this year’s deadline.
Hopefully he’s learned from the many mistakes he’s made.
I’m sure many rival GM’s are circling the Yankees like buzzards and would love to cherry pick a few more prospects from the Yankees’ hands in the next week or so.
If the Yankees are smart and try to hang on to pitching prospects, it will influence which teams are potential trade partners and which ones aren’t.
Sometimes the best deals are the ones you don’t make.