End of Season Thoughts & Solutions
by Cary Greene
October 10, 2023
I’ve been struggling lately to get excited enough to write something worthwhile enough to measure up to my personal expectations I place upon my pen. Thanks to our own Andy Singer and his faithful mailbag, his most recent edition spurred the old Yankees nag I’ve been riding this season into motion. I rode her down to the ‘ol pinstripe corral and picked out a young bronco.
While it remains to be seen if I’m truly back or not, I do credit Mr. Singer and I thank our Editor in Chief, the ever readable Dr. Paul Semendinger for keeping me plugged in. Without this site, and without all of our marvelous reader comments, I’m not sure this article could have happened or that I’d even still be here. But here we are folks! We’re still here!! All of us – and we’re still together. I still find myself routinely reading our marvelous blog every day. Why? Because I do love the New York Yankees.
I have great hope for the 2024 season. My hope is that the Yankees find a way out of the sad state of affairs that the franchise is now in, thanks to Brian Cashman’s leadership and Hal Steinbrenner’s tolerant style of leadership that condones failure and supports near maximum levels of annual spending, levels at which he alone decrees.
This season, the league averaged a .733 OPS. Aaron Judge posted a 1.019 and Gleyber Torres put up a .800, making them the only qualified Yankees who had above average seasons. The rest of the offense is an injury riddled, aging, underperforming, struggling to adjust to MLB, under league average mess. The Yankees have a ton to look at as they plan for next season, for sure. In fact, the Starting Rotation is, in this writer’s long standing opinion, this single part of the roster that’s prevented the Yankees from ending their Championship drought over the past 14 seasons and counting. That said, I’ll open today’s piece with the following statement:
Brian Cashman’s Stop-Gap approach to cobbling together a viable offense, that he’s rolled with for several seasons now, has now officially bottomed out. Let’s consider the facts, aided by big data, which we’ll let PECOTA handle as they do it best, to help see through the Yankees front office blunders. A dose of reality is now in order. Here are the red flags that need to be looked at:
DJ LeMahieu - In Serious Decline
With DJ LeMahieu turning 36 in July next season and considering he only posted a .717 OPS and was nowhere near the fringy MVP caliber player Cashman signed him up to be, the Yankees need to carefully evaluate the future -- starting TODAY!
DJ LeMahieu’s on field performance this past season would have been worth $8.5 million, per FanGraphs, if he were a free agent (this measured by their f-Dollars calculation). Unfortunately for Hal Steinbrenner and the Yankees, LeMahieu was paid $15 million, which means employing him was a waste of $6.5 million that could have been better spent, if only Steinbrenner’s GM were sharper. However, Cashman chose to lock LeMahieu up despite him being on the wrong side of 30 and with that decision came risk.
Piling onto that notion, the Yankees owe the clearly in decline LeMahieu $45 million over the next three seasons and considering LeMahieu’s PECOTA Player Comps, its not unreasonable to raise genuine concerns over how much gas is left in his undoubtedly diminishing gas tank.
If the Yankees are evaluating players to be kept or let loose this offseason, they should probably strongly consider trading LeMahieu, who presently holds a negative $8.6 MTV per BaseballTradeValues, providing a more productive player can replace him. This means that trading LeMahieu would require the Yankees to eat some portion of his contract or toss in desirable prospects in order to send him packing.
LeMahieu has been mismanaged from being a Gold Glove caliber second baseman into being a utility infielder, in order to let Gleyber Torres play second base. The Yankees apparently did this so that Josh Donaldson could play third base instead of simply moving Torres to the hot corner, which is a position he’s probably best suited to play to begin with.
I often write that the Yankees persist on playing numerous players out of position and I’m not alone in this opinion, as former Yankee turned announcer Alex Rodreiguez has echoed the same sentiments on the air on several occasions. If Hal Steinbrenner is developing some sort of action plan for Brian Cashman, rather than choosing to fire him outright, one of the first components of such a plan ought to be ensuring that each player on the roster plays a position where he’s optimally going to provide the most value.
For example, Mike King would be used as a starter, not a reliever, and likewise, LeMahieu should be returned to his natural position, which is and always has been second base. By moving him around, the Yankees have disrupted LeMahieu’s approach and turned him into a below average corner infielder. I’m sorry folks, but there’s just no value in doing this.
Can LeMahieu still field second base well enough to justify a 2024 reset or should the Yankees think of another plan, perhaps involving Oswald Peraza, the aforementioned Torres (who is a possible extension candidate) or even Anthony Volpe or should they address the issue differently by going outside the organization by signing a free agent or two?
PECOTA’s big data suggests that trading LeMahieu and perhaps eating some significant contract is probably the best play for the Yankees at this stage. Personally I’m in favor of moving him but I’m also luke warm on extending Torres to play third base and using LeMahieu at his natural position. Would I rather have seen the Yankees sign Corey Seager last offseason with the long term goal of using Volpe at second base and eventually, moving Seager to third base? Yes, but what to do with LeMahieu?
● Bill Mazeroski – No longer a valuable player by age 35, which was his final season, in which he posted a -0.3 f-WAR.
● Omar Infante - Finished at age 34, after posting a -0.3 f-WAR.
● Red Schoendienst - In serious decline at age 35 (1.6 f-WAR) and a washed up utility player thereafter.
At this point, the Yankees are likely stuck with all of the “iffy” contracts Brian Cashman has handed out. Therefore, all signs point to a breakdown with aging stars like LeMahiu and a few others I’ll be discussing today. Given the relatively weak crop of free agent infielders this offseason, I think the Yankees have little choice to roll with LeMahieu as the starter at second base and I think using Torres at third base is the most viable solution for the Yankees next season.
Doing this means that Oswald Peraza becomes the team’s utility player, which most scouts outside the Yankees organization have said all along about the light hitting Peraza, who would make a fine backup middle infielder who can also play third base if needed.
Anthony Rizzo - The End is Near
Meanwhile Anthony Rizzo, who turns 35 in August next season, also has PECOTA Player Comps that suggest that the end of his career may be very near. Hal Steinbrenner clearly didn’t want to sign Freddie Freeman and Cashman didn’t have the pitching trade chips, not to mention the moxie required, to outmaneuver the Alex Anthopoulos and the Braves in order to pull off a trade for Matt Olson. Considering that Olson had a monster season this year, Yankees fans are left to wonder how much 54 HR’s or more and 139 RBI’s would have helped the Yankees this season.
Considering Rizzo’s concussion issue and factoring in his age and PECOTA player comps, it’s fair to conclude that he very likely has minimal value going forward.
● Keith Hernandez – Was completely washed up at age 34 (-0.5 f-WAR over bits of two more seasons.
● John Olerud – No bang for the buck from age 35 to when he retired at 36 (1.1 f-WAR over two seasons).
● Kent Hrbek - Done at age 34, not productive at all (-0.3 fWAR)
Enter Austin Wells, who clearly doesn’t have the skills to remain a catcher at the big league level. The Yankees missed an opportunity to teach him first base the day after they drafted him, which is yet another red flag if Steinbrenner is evaluating the Yankees process. This opinion is one that many scouts outside the Yankees organization have been in favor of ever since Wells was drafted.
Not only would the Yankees benefit from getting more left handed, but Wells could easily take over for Rizzo until such time as Rizzo defies father time with a successful comeback or he is forced to go the way of player comps and retire. This is the most sustainable, organic and viable approach for any Yankees offseason plan and by dumping Kyle Higashioka, the Yankees can carry Wells as a jack of all trades, while getting him plenty of reps at first base, in the hopes that he could transform into the master of one. Parting ways with Higiashioka is at this point a no brainer.
Giancarlo Stanton - Untradable
I hesitate to say any player is untradeable, but over the past few seasons, Brian Cashman has put together a roster with a number of players who despite him actively shopping them, not a single team in baseball wanted any of them….unless they were DFA’d and they could be scooped up for nothing, with the Yankees on the hook for their contracts. If I were Hal Steinbrenner, I’d have already fired Brian Cashman and besides his failing to produce results (meaning a championship), I’d consider Cashman to be guilty of squandering way too much of my money.
The time to trade Giancarlo Stanton was after the 2020 playoffs, but now the idea of trading him would involve the Yankees paying ALL of the $98 million he is owed –PLUS– kicking in prospects to offset Stanton’s negative on field performance. Therefore, the Yankees are stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to Giancarlo Stanton. The only viable path forward is to try to squeeze some more juice from the dehydrated Florida orange rind formerly known as Miami’s 2017 NL MVP. The Yankees will have to continue dressing his shriveled, juiceless self in pinstripes in the hopes that he can contribute something, anything at all.
The end is nearing for Stanton and it’s not going to be a pretty sight. A completely unrealistic case can easily be made in favor of trading Giancarlo Stanton, but the reality is that he’s a sunk cost at this point and every GM in baseball knows it.
Fangraphs calculated that, if Big-G were a free agent this past season, based on his performance, he would have been worth negative $6.7 million. What GM in his right mind would take on his contract, or even a portion of it, for that sort of negative value? He’s not a viable DH, he can’t hit right-handed pitching any more to save his life (75 wRC+ vs righties this past season) and of course, he can’t stay healthy enough to play the field. Of what use is he going forward?
When the soon to be 34-year old Stanton’s player comps are examined, the reasonable conclusions are more bad news for the Yankees, who owe $98 million to Stanton over the next four seasons - with the Marlins also paying him an additional $30 million from 2026 to 2028. Clearly, a player with a contract that has a hefty AAV and who doesn’t perform nearly well enough to justify the spend, is a totally sunk cost. Stanton’s player comps suggest the Yankees will be lucky to get two more years of moderate production from Stanton, after which they’ll probably have to DFA him.
● Jose Canseco – Amassed 4.4 f-WAR from 34 to 36, after which he retired. PED user too obviously, which may have helped.
● Jack Clark – Remained productive from age 34 (4.3 f-WAR) and age 35 seasons (2.4 f-WAR) seasons, then the bottom fell out and he retired at age 36 (-0.3 f-WAR).
● Juston Upton – Retired at age 34 (-0.5 f-WAR)
This Yankees offseason doesn’t really start with assessing what went wrong because most Yankees fans off the street could pretty much nail that question and save Hal Steinbrenner the cost of having an impartial analysis done. What the Yankees need to do first and foremost is to examine themselves in the looking glass. The visages reflected back may be stoic, chiseled and varying degrees of endearing, but father time waits for no one and the reality is that Cashman built what he hoped would be a juggernaut with several engines that are near or at their mileage limits.
With LeMahieu penciled in at second base and Wells counted on for first basemanship, a pinch of back up catching, some part time outfield duty and perhaps some substantial at-bats as the DH, the Yankees could afford to give Stanton a chance to recapture his former glory, while also giving Rizzo a chance at returning for however long he’s able to be protective.
Most crucial to the whole plan would be Oswald Peraza assuming the super utility role along with Oswaldo Cabrera. Transitioning to younger, more athletic players involves growing pains and patience, something former Yankees GM Stick Michael well understood. For better or worse, the Yankees have a core group of younger players who they need to stick with, again - given the thin crop of 2024 free agent infielders.
Lineup balance has been dearly lacking for far too long. Cashman isn’t oblivious to this, he traded for Joey Gallo and Andrew Benintendi respectively and he also struck fold for three months with Matt Carpenter - at which point I freely admit, he was looking like a genius. How fickle the mob changes its tune though. I’m trying not to court the votes of fickle mob here, but given the lack of championship parades in Manhattan for the past fourteen seasons, it’s a bit hard not to turn, well – fickle! What Yankee fan hasn’t grown impatient these days?
Therefore, a prudent offseason plan on offense involves becoming better balanced, while simultaneously protecting aging veterans that big-data player comps suggest will not produce - yet simultaneously paving a way forward, upwards and onwards. With the middle of the Yankees order being so threadbare and with the bottom of the Yankees lineup being a veritable wasteland, it’s clear that the Yankees aging stars and unproven youth can’t be counted on to right the ship by themselves. No sound offseason plan would remotely advocate for a status quo approach to building a formidable 2024 roster.
Therefore, left-handed balance and middle of the lineup production need to be built into whatever plan the Yankees conceive. Cody Bellinger is available to fill the void in center field. Jasson Dominguez appears to have some allure, but he’s probably best suited to play left field in Yankee Stadium long term. Bellinger is a middle of the lineup bat and he won’t come cheap, but the Yankees desperately need to secure his services.
Another team need is run production and if Stanton breaks down, I’m not sold on Austin Wells being the answer at DH. It would be far more prudent to platoon him and let him get at bats elsewhere. That being the case, the Yankees really need two more bats to mix into the middle and lower portions of the lineup.
Perhaps Joc Pederson and or either the more versatile Teoscar Hernandez or the slugging J.D. Martinez would give the Yankees some thump they could count on. This might mark Everson Pereira and Oswaldo Cabrera as expendable assets and the Yankees ought to be okay with that. Not every prospect pans out. The Yankees don’t have much choice here, they desperately need to improve an offense that was ranked a debilitating 26th out of 30 in MLB this past season. Free agency is the only cure at this point and it doesn’t take a rocket science degree to arrive at this conclusion.
Counting on a platoon of Pederson and Hernandez or Martinez gives the Yankees some added firepower and it allows Wells to grow at his own place. If Stanton is able to contribute, it would be fantastic but the Yankees really ought to cut bait at this point with him because the need for production has reached critical mass. The days of hoping for Stanton to produce are long past.
Moving on from Stanton for the Yankees, given the financial implications, would mean Brian Cashman’s head. He’d have to be fired. It would be a PR nightmare, but it’s not like this isn’t par for the course with Cashman. Someone, hopefully Hal, has to intervene at this point. The Yankees fan base is varying degrees of embarrassed, livid and upset. The fickle mob has turned. It’s time for changes, but a sound plan is also likewise needed!