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Mid-Term Grades

Ed Botti





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Through 81 games of this 2021 season of high hopes and ambitions followed by letdowns and failures, the Yankees were 41-40. Hardly what any of us, not named Nostradamus, expected.

No one projected a 61-20 first half either, but 41-40 is a total disappointment. And there are many to blame.

They have had some decent spurts this season, but they are few and far between, and each winning streak was always followed by a stretch of inconsistent offense, fundamental errors in the field, lost opportunities, and just flat out bad baseball.

So let’s start at the top.

Hal Steinbrenner, Chairman and Managing General Partner

Hal has tough shoes to fill, and it seems he goes out of his way not to react as his father would have, to a fault. He imposed a very strict budget this offseason, and frankly, I don’t blame him. He has invested significantly the last 8 years, and has essentially gotten nothing for it. He was convinced by his staff that Stanton was a good move. It wasn’t. He let his GM extend an injury prone Aaron Hicks for 7 years at $10MM per season, ditto for Severino for 4 years. He is still battling Jacoby Ellsbury on the final year of an ill-advised $153,000,000 contract worth over $26,000,000.

As the head of the team, it is incumbent upon him to not only write the checks, but to verify that what he is buying is a good sound piece that fits his team’s needs and plans. He owes at least that much to his millions of loyal fans that continue to fork over their hard earned money to support his “business”. Since he is backed into a corner paying Stanton, Hicks and Sevy roughly $50 million a year for the next several years, he now has to tighten his belt. All of that could have been avoided with just good solid due diligence and baseball savvy.

His presser last week left much to be desired, as he has shown he did not inherit the leadership abilities, and the talent of reading his fans and the media from his father. His father would do anything to win, Hal sees things differently.

Grade: D

Brian Cashman, General Manager

The buck stops here. He is the architect of this team. He brought in the players, and imposes his foolish and stubborn approach to baseball on his manager. He insisted that a very good second baseman could simply slide over and play shortstop at the major league level, while letting a perfect fit leave via Free Agency. He traded for $30MM a year DH, and bet on 2 reclamation projects to solidify his starting rotation. He built an entirely right handed team, and then panicked and signed Rougned Odor to supply balance.

As a matter of background, he believed he was pulling a fast one making a sly “double addition” by salary dumping Adam Ottavino on the Red Sox to sign O’Day and Wilson? He then lost Garrett Whitlock in the Rule 5 Draft to the very same Red Sox because apparently Brooks Kriske was worth keeping over Whitlock? How’d all that work out?

He could have very easily acquired Kyle Schwarber, Taijuan Walker, Charlie Morton and retained Masahiro Tanaka. Instead he went with Kluber, Taillon, Gardner and Wilson.

Do I even need to mention Jay Bruce?

His minor league system has not developed major league talent since they brought up the baby bombers in 2016, and with a few exceptions, it is widely considered bereft of real prospects in 2021.

On top of that, scouts throughout the minor leagues are flabbergasted at how little time the Yankees spend on fundamentals throughout their entire system.

I can go on and on.

Grade: F



Photo by AP
Photo by AP


Photo by AP


Aaron Boone, Manager

Boone is in a tough and precarious position. On the one hand, I don’t believe he actually manages the game. Why? Because his team plays in a way completely different then he played, different than the way the managers he played for managed, and different from the way his Father played and managed, not to mention his Grandfather.

So I do not know what type of field manager he actually is. Does he like to run? Does he like to move runners, steal runs and pressure the other teams? I really have no idea.

He is a cliché machine in most pressers.

What I do know is his team is a terrible base running team that seems to make the same mistakes over and over. His outfielders routinely throw to the wrong bases, his shortstop still doesn’t know where to position himself during cut off throws, and I really don’t get many of his pitching moves. He babies his stars, and many of his best players have regressed under his leadership.

Not to isolate 1 specific game, but take a look at the 9th inning of Sunday’s debacle in Houston. He had no idea how to get 3 outs out of a bullpen that was well rested after Cole’s complete game on Saturday. He had better options once it was clear that Green had nothing. Instead, he pitched to the cheater Altuve.

Grade: For those reasons I will switch from my initial thought of an incomplete to a D.

Matt Blake, Pitching Coach

The 2020 Yankees ranked 14th in the league with a 4.35 ERA. In 2021 they rank 10th with a 3.83 ERA. Blake’s influence is being felt, but we have to keep in mind, this is his first “real” season as the pitching coach. The magic he was a part of in Cleveland with Mickey Callaway and Tito Francona has not been realized yet, but I like the way he handles his staff.

He needs to figure out what is wrong with Chapman and fix it.

Grade: B

Mike Harkey, Bullpen Coach

As we have become accustomed, Mike does a great job each year. The 2021 Yankee Bullpen has the 2nd best era (3.55) in the American League, trailing only Tampa Bay and Cleveland (3.35). Mike is a big part of the overall Matt Blake system and continues to enhance that system working closely with the pitchers and Blake.

Grade: B+

Marcus Thames, Hitting Coach

It’s easy to sit back and blame Thames for the Yankees offensive woes, after all they are hitting just .236 as a team and rank 13th in the league. But that would be unfair. He was the hitting coach in 2019 when the Yankees ranked 3rd in the league with a .267 team average and a pretty electric offense during the regular season. No, Thames is not to blame. He is simply following orders.

Grade: C

Eric Cressey, Strength and Conditioning

The whole point of bringing in Cressey and his unique training methods was to eliminate many of the soft tissue injuries that have plagued this team over the last few years. That seems to have worked to a degree. Currently, only Darren O’Day and Zach Britton are on the IL with soft tissue injuries. As was expected, Luke Voit also suffered a soft tissue injury earlier this season.

I just wish he could figure out a way to get to Stanton, and get him back in the field. At 31, he is way too young to only be a DH.

For that reason his grade suffers.

Grade: C+

Players

Let’s start off by going around the horn.

Gary Sanchez, C

After a terrible 2020 and him losing his job in the playoffs, he seems to have found something mechanical, reverted back to a more traditional rotational swing, corrected it and is playing much better. I would like to see him keep his head in the game more, and control the Pitcher/Catcher battery with more conviction.

He could have pouted and slipped further away, but it appears he worked hard and the results are now apparent, notwithstanding his early July slump.

Grade: B-

Kyle Higashioka, C

Higgy Stardust earned some more playing time while Sanchez seemed lost. Gerrit Cole’s personal catcher has done a decent job, but it became clear that the more he plays, the less he hits. He is a sound back up.

Grade: C+

Gio Urshela, 3B

The best move of the recent Cashman era, a gift from John Gibbons and the Toronto Blue Jays. Gio has been a solid player both offensively and in the field. He continues to make plays that baffle the mind. I would like to see him cut down on the strikeouts and make a little more contact. But, who can complain? The guy can even play shortstop.

Grade: B+

Gleyber Torres, SS

Where do we start? First off, the kid is being forced to play the toughest position in MLB, shortstop. He’s not a shortstop, it is very obvious. Yet, the Yankees force him into the position every night, trusting their defensive shifts will help even things out. It hasn’t. They made a major mistake believing that logic.

Second, his swing was completely remade by Brian Cashman and Mike Fishman’s team of analytical geeks that see nothing but launch angle.

His defensive issues are terrible, and he takes it to the plate. Think about this, in 2019 he had 38 home runs and hit .278. At the 2021 half way point, he is at .240 with 3 home runs.

He has the same amount of errors as he does combined home runs and doubles (12).

Since I believe most of this is not his fault, I will go a little easier on him.

Grade: C-

DJ LeMahieu, 2B/1B/3B

As most that read SSTN know, I endorsed extending DJ this off season. I am standing by that. My idea was 4 years. They ended up giving him 6. He started off slower than we all would have liked, but he is hitting.270 and has 92 hits in the first half. He should be the 3 hitter on this team, but they continue to hit him leadoff every night.

They need more out of him, but he is hardly the problem.

Grade: B-

Luke Voit, 1B

Another injury prone muscle bound right handed hitter. He is average defensively, stops to play the piano he is carrying in the base paths and strikes out too much. After leading the league in 2020 in home runs (22), his trade value was high. I wanted to move him this past winter. They should have. He simply cannot stay on the filed enough to warrant being the everyday first baseman of the New York Yankees. He has played in 29 games in 2021.

Grade: D

Tyler Wade, SS

Recently demoted and now recalled, he fills in great on defense, is a deer on the base paths, and has a good baseball IQ. If this guy could hit .250 he’d be a starting short stop somewhere, maybe even in the Bronx.

GRADE: C+

Rougned Odor, 2B

My selection for his role this off season was Tommy La Stella, who is currently hurt.

Odor is playing exactly as the back of his baseball card suggests. He is an all or nothing hitter that strikes out way too much and provides average to below average defense. He does have a very good right hook, as José Bautista will attest.

Since he is doing what he always has done I will grade accordingly.

Grade: C-

Giancarlo Stanton, DH

All roads lead back to Giancarlo Stanton. He clogs up the entire line up because he cannot or will not play the field. He is a good major league hitter, no doubt about it. The challenge is he does not fit with this line up. Anyone that analyzed that deal in the winter of 2018 would tell you the same thing. A big right handed right fielder is not what this team needed then, or now.

He actually is one of the more productive hitters on this team. The problem is, just like so many other muscle bound righties on this team, he can’t stay on the field, his manager babies him, and he strikes out too much.

He needs to carry this team more so than he actually does and is more than capable of doing so, and PLAY IN THE FIELD. Yes, he makes a lot of money for the role he plays, but that’s not his fault.

GRADE: B-



Photo by AP
Photo by AP


Photo by AP


Aaron Judge, RF

The face of the franchise is headed back to the All-Star game for the third time. He is staying on the field this year (knock on wood!!) and his numbers bear out. He is hitting .282 and hit his 21st home run against the Astros on Saturday. He is doing his job. He plays a steady right field, has an excellent arm, and for some reason, they put him in center field a few times this season, where he played it well.

He should be extended ASAP.

Grade: A

Brett Gardner, CF

He was signed this off season with the idea of playing 2 games a week, getting 8-12 ABs a week, and being a team leader. Thanks to another season of injuries to Hicks, the trade of Tauchman, the failure of Frazier, and the reluctance to see what Estevan Florial can do, he has been needed in nearly every game played this season.

His bat speed has slowed, his legs aren’t the same, and his arm, which was never his calling card, has gotten even weaker.

Gardy has been a great soldier for many years. I am sad that he goes out this way.

Grade: D

Clint Frazier, OF

Watch out for what you ask for, because you just might get it. Frazier was cocky a few years ago and made claims to left field, didn’t win the battle, was sent down, came back up, got a concussion, and was essentially handed the starting job in March.

He has failed miserably. He hasn’t hit. He makes mistakes on the field. He is average defensively. Another “victim” of the Cashman/Fishman school of hitting, he has had more stances this year and last, then Baskin-Robbins has flavors.

I don’t blame it all on him, I know for a fact they are constantly tinkering with his swing path, feet, and hip rotation.

The guy with the “legendary bat speed”, we were all told about after the Andrew Miller trade, looks like he is now swinging his bat under water.

Grade: F

Miguel Andújar, LF/3B/1B

The man with a bat but no position. Despite what you may hear on the YES Network, he is a defensive liability wherever he plays. But, he can hit. Another player that should have been moved this past winter to a team he can actually play on, in exchange for someone this team can actually use.

I give him a lot of credit for trying to learn a new position at the MLB level, but he has no shot at taking back third base, and his outfield play is inadequate.

Grade: C-

Aaron Hicks, CF

A total bust out. He told the world he could hit 30 home runs this past spring training if he could get 500 at bats. I guess that’s possible. The problem is he broke down again after only 108 at AB’s and is out for the year.

What did he do before his latest injury? .194 with 4 home runs. He has more holes in his swing then Bob Nightengale has fake breaking news stories.

Grade: F

On the Mound

Gerrit Cole, RHP

A Tale of two seasons… Part 1.

This is a tough one. The guy is a gamer, he is tough, he hates failing. All things I love. But, you had to start to wonder before his dominant start on Saturday, what is the real Gerrit Cole? Is he the guy that had a dominant 2.01 ERA after his first 9 starts of the season. Or, is he the guy we saw after Manfred’s mid-season rule change, that saw him implode against the Red Sox and Mets, and was pitching to a 3.50 ERA since?

It is no coincidence that when he left Pittsburgh and went to Houston, suddenly he got better. Suddenly Ray Searage was a hack and Brent Strom was a genius?

I don’t know about any of that, what I do know is if he pitches like he did on Saturday, all is well.

Grade: B

Jordan Montgomery, LHP

Monty has taken the ball 17 time so far this season. He has been inconsistent, and also victimized a bit by his range challenged middle of the infield. I project him as a good 4 or an average 3. He needs to get more consistent, but appears to be healthy.

He has hardly been the problem.

Grade: C

Domingo German, RHP

Inconsistent. That is the story of German in 2021. Remember spring training? He looked like the solid 2 behind Cole. Reality of the regular season set in, and he has not made it past 5 innings in any of his last 5 starts (excluding the Dentist visit in Seattle).

He had been out of Baseball since September of 2019, so maybe, he needs more time to get back into the swing of things.

Grade: C-

Corey Kluber, RHP

And now we get the Las Vegas portion of the 2021 Yankee team. Kluber is the first of the two reclamation projects sold to us this past winter as “upgrades” to the starting rotation.

He trained under Yankee fitness guru Eric Cressey this past year, and parlayed that into an $11MM deal.

He did get his feet under him and threw that beautiful no hitter. But really folks, a shoulder injury and broken arm derailed his 2019 and 2020 seasons. Did many really think that at 35 years old, he would suddenly become healthy again and make it through the rigors of a major league season?

He is now on the 60 day IL with yet another shoulder injury. I hope they have insurance!

Grade: C-

Jameson Taillon, RHP

Part 2 of the “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” team, “Jamo”, as he apparently likes to be called, brings a 4.90 ERA after 17 starts as a Yankee to the half way point.

Coming off injuries and even beating cancer, he has not lived up to the hype yet. And I emphasize “yet”. His last 3 starts have been much better, and he is only 29 years old.

He just may be getting his sea legs under him, and will finish much stronger than he started.

Those last 3 starts up his grade to a C-.

Aroldis Chapman, LHP

A Tale of two seasons… Part 2.

Through the first 40 games or so, he was absolutely dominant pitching to a measly 0.47 ERA. Added to his repertoire was his brand new splitter, a key cog in him going 19 games without giving up a run.

And then things suddenly and dramatically changed when the Commissioner stepped in and cracked down on all of the sticky stuff in the League. As a result his fastball command has vanished, and he has lost his confidence.

He has completely fallen apart, to the point where Chad Green closed out a win in Seattle, and Boone was afraid to use him in Sunday’s debacle in Houston.

I believe he will regain all of the above in the 2nd half. His first quarter marks were so great, it saves his mid term grade.

Grade: C

Chad Green, RHP

Sometimes Chad seems to go under the radar, but the reality is that he has become one of the most dependable relievers the Yankees have had since 2017 (excluding Sunday’s complete meltdown in Houston).

He finished his first half with 50 strikeouts in 46.2 innings with a 2.89 ERA.

Grade: B

Zack Britton, LHP

Amongst elbow surgery and a strained hamstring, Britton has pitched just 4.1 innings. A tough loss to this team, as he was counted on to get several high pressure outs.

Grade: Incomplete



Photo Terrance Williams/AP 
Photo Terrance Williams/AP 


Photo Terrance Williams/AP


Jonathan Loaisiga, RHP

Now, over his mystery illness of 2020, Johnny Lasagna has made his mark in 2021. He leads the team with 35 mostly dominant appearances with a .978 WHIP. Overall he was 7-3 with a 2.15 ERA at the half way mark.

He is establishing himself as one of the more reliable relievers in the league. The 2021 Bullpen MVP, so far. His latest illness or Covid 19 protocol stint was felt as he would have been the go to guy in Sunday’s blown save and loss.

Grade: A

Lucas Luetge, LHP

It is hard to believe that before earning a spot on the Yankees’ Opening Day roster this season, he hadn’t pitched in the majors since 2015.

He has had only one subpar appearance this season, when he surrendered 3 runs in the June 30 game against the Angels.

He has pitched to a 3.35 ERA in 33 games thus far and has become a trusted member in Boone’s bull pen rotation.

A very welcome surprise. I give credit to Cashman for seeing potential and giving him a chance.

Grade: B

Mike King, RHP

King has been solid as a reliever and not as solid as a starter. It’s possible they keep him in the bullpen, barring any injuries. Despite his freakish recent injury to his finger while lifting weights, he still has a high upside.

Grade: C

Darren O’Day, RHP

O’Day was pitching effectively before a shoulder injury landed him on the IL. He came back, and went right back on the IL with a left hamstring injury.

His presence in the late innings has been missed.

Grade: C

Justin Wilson, LHP

I never quite got this move. But here is the ugly truth. An 8.59 ERA in 18 games.

Grade: F

Luis Cessa, RHP

A grinder that just seems to do whatever is needed. I think if you asked him to fill in at shortstop, he’d have no problem. Teams need players like Luis.

A record of 2-1 with 3.00 ERA at the half way mark. His track record shows that he gets better as the season evolves. He gets 7.5 strikeout per 9 innings and has surrendered 12 runs in 36 innings pitched.

Not bad. I have no idea why he did not pitch on Sunday.

Grade: C+

Nestor Cortes, LHP

Cortes in his second stint in the Bronx has been a pleasant surprise.

He has given the Yankees greatly needed length, and in some pretty high pressure spots recently. His numerous wind ups, arm angles, and timing changes make him an interesting watch.

He’s done his job well. We all seem to forget that he is only 26 years old. I think he gets a look at the 5 spot when the season resumes.

Grade: B-

Nick Nelson, RHP

With his 9.95 ERA, in a perfect world, Nelson doesn’t pitch in an important spot, but given how unstable the Yankees’ bullpen has been recently by anyone not named Chad Green and Jonathan Loaisiga, we just may have to endure it.

Grade: D-

Wandy Peralta, LHP

If Mike Tauchman wasn’t hitting .180 in San Francisco, I would label this deal as a complete bust. Wandy has pitched to a 5.19 ERA since coming over from the Giants. He has a Yankee WHIP of 1.20 and has struck only 10 batters in 17 innings.

Grade: D-

Overall, the 2021 Yankees are a good team, not the terrible team that so many of us are convinced that they are. But, they told us, the fans, the actual customers, that this was a World Series team. A great team. We pay more than most fans, and do so happily for an on field product built on excellence. The 2021 Yankees are not that. They are an average baseball team with a record of 46-43, on target to win 84 games, with the 2nd highest payroll, behind only the Dodgers in all of MLB. They play an uninspiring brand of baseball that frankly, is unacceptable.

Many of us are consumed with the blown save on Sunday. Yes, that hurt. But how about the fact that they walked 14 times and had 8 hits, yet scored 7 runs? Honestly, I can’t even figure that out. Maybe the analytics guys can tell us?

I doubt it.

Many of their star players seemed to have regressed, and the system is not producing players to step up and help.

Many of their star players happily accept an off day, or what they now call “workload management”. That tells you something about the fire inside.

You need a day off, earn it!

Instead, at a time when they should be furious and angry with the Astros for obvious reasons, the most they do is put on a jacket after a home run, as if that really settles the score.

They all need to look in the mirror and ask themselves one question.

How bad do you want it?

When you factor all of that in, they are just an average team with a below average player development system, a flawed over reliance on analytics, a manager that seems to be out managed consistently by his division foes, and an overall lackadaisical mental approach to the game.

Organizational Wide Grade: C-

As we have seen over the years, nothing is impossible. But for this team to contend for a division crown and a shot at the Pennant and World Series, many things need to change, and a lot of luck is needed. If I was a betting man, which I am not, I would stay away from the overabundance of sports books that have worked their way into professional sports, and take that same money and buy a lotto ticket. You probably have better odds. There are many too many holes to fill, and putting round pegs into square holes, without a hammer, never works.

Does anyone see a hammer? That is my metaphor for a driving force, a leader that pushes people to another level of performance that they may not have even known that they had, and does not care whether he is liked or disliked, as long as he is respected.

This team has had many of them over the years, but in 2021 I do not see one. If I am wrong, I will happily admit it this October.

On that note, enjoy the off day. My new mid-summer classic, Shark Week, is on. Unlike what we have been witnessing so far by the Yankees, they are fast, calculated, fundamentally sound, strong, resilient, and never let up on their opponent or squander an opportunity!

Stay out of the Water!

#Steinbrenner #AaronBoone #BrianCashman #AaronJudge #GarySanchez

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