Not The Weekly Mailbag: Thoughts And Reflections
It's been a better week to be a Yankee fan. I said it somewhere, but there's nothing like playing the Twins to help the Yankees break out of a slump and into the win column. With more timely hitting and competent umpires (seriously, this crew was awful...like, Angel Hernandez or CB Bucknor levels of bad), the Yankees should have had a sweep. 3 out of 4 is great, but a little more momentum heading into Friday would have been nice.
Now the real test comes. The Yankees remain 4.5 games up on the Rays as they come to New York for a 3-game set. If the Yankees don't win this series, September will become a very difficult month.
As always, thanks for the great questions, and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. The regular SSTN Mailbag will return next week, but I have so many strands in my head (and not enough time to write proper analytical articles with a newborn at home), that I thought this might be a good place for some brain dump to encourage discussion. Without further ado, let's get into it:
I'm going to start with the most controversial topic in the Yankee Universe, one that's been beaten to death: the Harrison Bader for Jordan Montgomery swap. I analyzed Bader's possible fit early last month in much greater detail than I will here, but while I was always the high-man on Jordan Montgomery (I actually find it hysterical to see many of the same people who called Monty a good 5-starter waxing poetic about his performance in the NL), viewing him as a good #3 or a soft #2, I think what's occurred over the last month and change shows how thin the Yankees are in the outfield. While we can argue over what it cost to bring in a true centerfielder, there's little doubt but that the current Yankee roster would be far better with a plus-plus defensive centerfielder who can hit at a +/- average level. Even at his worst, Bader can do that, and even some cursory research (which you can find in the linked article above), shows why Harrison Bader should be a great fit for the Yankees and Yankee Stadium.
I am also going to argue with the idea that Bader is a light hitting bat similar to Tim Locastro. If Locastro could even hit to an 85 OPS+/wRC+, he'd be playing everyday right now; he can't and neither can Estevan Florial (who, by the way, is getting eaten alive by big league offspeed and breaking stuff). Bader's recent track record shows he can hit (114 OPS+ in both 2020 and 2021), and even in a down 2022 while playing hurt, he's still in earshot of average (94 OPS+), maintaining all-world defense and tying his record for stolen bases in just 264 plate appearances. Bader will bring a lot to the Yankee offense, even if he's roughly average at the plate (a solid bet).
To those asking about the injury: all reports are he's healthy and ready for a rehab assignment - it's set to begin early next week, from all reports. The boot appears to have done its job for Bader. Acquiring an injured player was always a risk, I'll grant the detractors of the trade that much. However, there is very little evidence that this was a trade meant just for 2023. The Yankees went into the trade deadline with a huge lead. They saw an opportunity to add a piece that was functionally different from anything they had on the roster: an outfielder with great speed, all-world defense, who can run the bases and hit enough to carry his weight (and possibly a bit more). The timeline for recovery was September, and Bader is on-track for that. As frustrated as all of us are with the Yankees (myself included), I think we have to wait until October to properly evaluate this trade.
Onto a different topic: the Rays. They seem to be peaking at the right time, going 8-2 in their last 10 games. The Rays are peaking at the right time, and also appear to be getting healthy at the right time, with Wander Franco coming back in time for the series against the Yankees. That's a scary prospect!
The Yankees have grinded out some wins, and the pitching staff is getting healthier, but they don't seem to be getting healthy enough on offense. DJ LeMahieu is back on the IL for the toe and Stanton doesn't seem healthy either. Those are two major bats the Yanks are counting on in the top of the order to protect Aaron Judge and provide consistent offense. That hasn't happened since the end of July.
Flying under the radar: Jose Trevino has really looked bad the last week and change, and I can't help but think he's banged up or tired. Trevino got the most starts and plate appearances in a single month in his entire career in August, and he performed admirably, nearly matching his hot May and June. He's really dragging in September, producing his worst stats of the season (.111/.111/.111), and ceding some playing time to Higgy. Catching is the most demanding position on the field, and I hope the Yankees can balance getting Trevino some rest for the stretch run while trying to win as many games as possible.
When the Yankees win games, Trevino hits .296/.337/.495. They need him healthy to balance the bottom of the order.
Wow, does IKF look more comfortable playing 3B, or what?!? His defensive actions are so much cleaner, and he suddenly looks freer at the plate as well. If IKF keeps this up, I have no problem playing him over Donaldson at 3B - particularly if he keeps hitting and getting on-base, as IKF can be a demon on the basepaths.
Nasty Nestor looked great until he hit a wall last night. Without a rehab assignment, I think he just ran out of gas. I'm not concerned; he'll be fine, and the Yankees really need him.
Luis Severino returns shortly. I can't wait. Never mind that the rotation looks so much deeper with him there, I just love watching Sevy spin. He's an absolute bulldog on the mound, and I think the Yanks could use some of that swagger to lift them up right now. Cole has fantastic skills, but I don't think his demeanor lifts those around him the way Sevy can. That's an intangible that's hard to measure.
I love the kids, Cabrera and Peraza. I've been beating the drum for both guys since late-2019, and feels good to watch them both make an impact here in a playoff race. I still think Cabrera will hit more eventually, but with the defense he's playing, it almost doesn't matter that he's not hitting. Watching the kids play well with energy is a shining light following a really dark month.
This series against the Rays will really set the tone for the rest of the season. Let's keep our fingers crossed. I'll be holding my breath all weekend.