Ethan’s 10 Bold Predictions for 2021:
I’m not a pessimist, I swear!
Unfortunately, life isn’t back to our old normal even though we can pretend that because we now place a new digit at the end of our checks that something has changed. Personally, as I have gotten older the emphasis and thrills of New Years Eve has been lost on me. As a little kid, it served as one of those rare opportunities to experience the “night life” that was always so secretive from me and my 8:30 PM bedtime. At this point in my life I’m naturally up until 2:00 AM each night, and let me inform those who have the early bedtimes: you’re not missing much.
So, as I was waiting to have a friend share a video of the ball dropping in NYC on our Zoom call last night, so we could each raise a glass to seeing each other again soon, I naturally began to think about baseball.
Without further ado, here are 10 of my “bold predictions” for the 2021 season. Some of these will definitely be more chaotic than others, but not everything has to be based in some fantasy 10:000-1 odds.
#1 – The Yankees will NOT Win the American League East
While the top players of the offseason like Realmuto, Springer, LeMahieu, and Bauer sit and wait for their preferred offers to reach the table, one team seems to be constantly talked about being ‘in the mix’. While we are unsure if they will even play in their home stadium again for 2021, the Blue Jays of either Toronto (or Buffalo) are going to take the AL East crown for 2021. They have an incredible young core of players that can carry a weaker rotation to a very open division spot. Especially if they get another good starting pitcher they have the team I’m most worried about for next season.
The Yankees continue to be held captive by DJ LeMahieu, the Rays have lost their rotation in losing Snell and Morton, the Red Sox are going to suffer another major curse from trading Betts, and the Orioles are just here for the ride.
#2 – Masahiro Tanaka WILL be the Yankees #2 Starter in 2021 and 2022
After seeing the news a while back (and repeated again yesterday) that Masahiro Tanaka is down to considering only the Yankees or going back to Japan. Ultimately, I think the Yankees will bring him back. There is a large part of me that wants the Yankees to learn how to not keep bringing back aging veterans who had nice Yankee careers, but at the same time the Yankees need all the starting pitching help they can get.
If (and when) Tanaka signs a contract with the Yankees, I expect it to be a multi-year deal that will all but solidify him as the #2 behind Gerrit Cole for 2021 and 2022. I don’t see them going after Trevor Bauer or making a trade for a top-tier starting pitcher (especially now that two of the more obtainable options are off the table). It doesn’t hurt that Tanaka also has the experience in NYC and as a #2 to take that role.
#3 – Gary Sanchez will be the Back-Up Catcher by the All-Star Break
I envy everybody who can truthfully hope on a catcher who hit .207/.318/.467 (.785 OPS) in the 2nd half of 2019 and then “fixed” the issues he was having at the plate by hitting .147/.253/.365 (.618 OPS) in 2020. Especially with defense that at best can be categorized as slightly below average, it’s hard to continue tossing him to the wolves.
I really hope Gary Sanchez can find his game again because when he is hitting well he is an incredible talent to watch. The only problem is that those moments don’t seem to come often enough. If his down numbers continue I think the Yankees may try out Kyle Higashioka in the starting role as they did in the postseason.
#4 – Aaron Boone’s Tenure Will End After 2021*
This is a simple logic of mine based upon my first prediction. If the Yankees don’t take the AL East and/or make it far into the postseason, then the Aaron Boone experiment might be over.
It has been made pretty clear that Boone was hired to be the mouthpiece for Brian Cashman. All while Cashman has had very little success in recent years, he has been able to avoid a lot of the blame. This will continue as he’ll likely cut Boone to save his image if success continues to be fleeting. (As much as you can blame the Astros for 2017, what other success did the team have in the 2010’s?)
#5 – Clint Frazier is the Team MVP for 2021
The Yankees have time and time again looked to avoid using Clint Frazier ever since they acquired him at the 2016 trade deadline for Andrew Miller. I think those ideas have to finally end now. Frazier was used in just 39 games last season, yet he was the 4th most valuable player on the team. Who played more games in Right Field in 2020: Clint Frazier or Aaron Judge? It was Clint Frazier (28 to 25). It wouldn’t have been as close as it was too because Aaron Judge also got lucky with the season being delayed as he was recovering from his cracked rib. In an otherwise normal season, Judge would have also missed April and May.
With Brett Gardner not yet coming back to the Yankees for 2021 (this is kind-of surprising), the Yankees may finally allow Frazier to take a starting position with the team. If so, I believe Frazier is going to astound those who have given up on him over the years. He will be the team MVP for 2021.
#6 – Jasson Dominguez Will Reach Double-A
I can’t wait to tell my grandchildren that I was reporting on Jasson “Mickey Mantle” Dominguez as he was a 16-year old in the Dominican Republic. So, is it really too much to expect for him to make Double-A in 2021? It doesn’t mean he’ll have a long stint, but he could be called up to experience the level for the first time towards the end of the season.
The biggest loss the Yankees may have had in 2020 was the lack of a minor league season for Dominguez. However, he did have an extra year to continue to build upon his fundamentals under the guidance of the Yankees system. With the shrinking of the minor leagues for 2021 as well, the number of jumps to Double-A is shorter and I don’t believe the Yankees are going to hold Dominguez back if (and when) he starts to dominate the low minors. A late-year call up to the Somerset Patriots could happen!
#7 – Aaron Hicks Plays in 140+ Games
One of the big problems with the Yankees in recent years was the lack of health for their players, of whom one big culprit has been Aaron Hicks. After his Tommy John Surgery in late 2019, he seemed to have his healthiest season in terms of a percentage of games played (90%) than any other season in his career.
I’m going to take that as a good sign of things to come. The Yankees will be careful with rest, but I am going to hope on Hicks playing a full season in 2021.
#8 – Deivi Garcia and Clarke Schmidt Will Combine for 25 Wins
The Yankees need Masahiro Tanaka for 2021 because they currently have a weak and unproven starting rotation behind Gerrit Cole. However, with Deivi Garcia expected to break into the starting rotation to start the season and Clarke Schmidt close to the MLB, I can see both getting legitimate time in the rotation.
Is 25 wins too high of an expectation? Domingo German had 18 wins over just 24 starts in 2019 and both Deivi and Schmidt (isn’t it odd we refer to them by different parts of their names?) have more promise than he did before his rookie season.
#9 – Zack Britton Takes Over as the Yankees Closer
During Aroldis Chapman’s temporary absence in the early part of the 2020 season, Zack Britton took over as the closer for the team and did a fantastic job.
With some struggles coming to light with Chapman and his walk percentage, I could see a shift of moving Britton back into that closer role for a considerable amount of time in 2021.
#10 – Aaron Judge Will No Longer Be the “Face of the Yankees”
It has to be said. Aaron Judge should and will not be the face of the Yankees going forward. He’s going to suffer a major injury again in 2021 that keeps him sidelined for multiple months. it’s honestly a shame that saying that doesn’t qualify as a “bold prediction” on its own. It’s customary and expected.
Meanwhile, Gleyber Torres will come back into form (while at second base), Clint Frazier will light up the outfield, and the promise of Jasson Dominguez will continue to grow as the season progresses. This will also allow the Yankees to move on from him after his arbitration years end, which is incredibly important as any more investment into him is going to hurt and isn’t going to pay off.