Ok, I’ll Say It… (Perspectives on the Injuries and the Big Three)
Disclaimer – while the Yankees are 2-4 and have dropped home series to the Orioles and the Tigers (!), the season is very young and hope still reigns eternal.
From the moment the off-season began, I stated that this off-season was going to be a defining one for the Yankees franchise, not just for 2019, but forever. There were two 26-year-old superstars available and a probable ace pitcher. The Yankees passed on all three of them. They seemed to make a token effort to consider Manny Machado and maybe Patrick Corbin, but showed no interest in Bryce Harper.
I also said at the time that the Yankees and Brian Cashman (of course) know more about baseball than me and that we have to believe and accept that they know what they are doing. Their track record of excellence speaks for itself. They know more about baseball, the Yankees, and such, than I ever will. Ever.
Still, the Yankees haven’t been to a World Series in a decade…
And, it’s not often that talents like Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, and Patrick Corbin are available for nothing but money.
We also know that the Yankees are loaded with cash. That point has been written about many times on this blog and in many other areas. Forbes has the Yankees valued at four billion dollars. (The next closest baseball team, the Dodgers, are valued at three billion dollars.) The Yankees have a gigantic financial advantage over the rest of baseball.
Over the winter, the Yankees made the decision to not use their financial strength to supplement their talented core. This decision, as I stated, was one that will define the franchise for a long time. Forever, in fact.
Some fans are saying that the injuries the Yankees are suffering right now couldn’t have been seen in advance. They are correct, to a point.
Some fans say that no team can be deep enough to withstand the injuries the Yankees have suffered to begin this season. Those people are also correct.
Other fans say that the Yankees shouldn’t have invested long-term in players with huge contracts because that’s a bad approach. Believe it or not, while I disagree (these are the Yankees after all), I do understand that point.
Finally, some fans are calling those who are now saying “The Yankees should have signed Harper or Machado” great second guessers. Again, the main talking point from these fans is the Yankees couldn’t have foreseen this rash of injuries or planned for them. No team could.
I get it. I really do.
The Yankees’ outfield, best case scenario, going into this season was Giancarlo Stanton (LF), Aaron Hicks (CF), Aaron Judge (RF) with Brett Gardner as the primary back-up. The next guy in line was Clint Frazier, an unproven potentially great player, with Jacoby Ellsbury as the wild card if he ever comes back. It’s not hindsight to say that many (including me) did not see this as a super deep collection of talent. This squad was one injury away from having Brett Gardner, at 35 years old and coming off a very bad second-half last year, thrust into a starting role. Also notable, the Yankees didn’t really have a DH in this grouping. If Stanton became the DH, like last year, Gardner would have to start. For all his potential and talent, Clint Frazier is an unknown who is also coming off serious injuries sustained last year. Also, it wasn’t a stretch to predict that Aaron Hicks, who has never played more than 137 games in a season, would miss time to injury. That’s not a knock on Hicks, it’s just the reality. In Hicks’ three seasons in New York, he has averaged 116 games played a season. Finally, there isn’t a left-handed power hitter in the current bunch. The Yankees, traditionally, have been built around left-handed power. Stating that Bryce Harper didn’t fit, couldn’t fit, wouldn’t fit, and that the Yankees were deep in the outfield/DH spot, just wasn’t true. This lack of depth is now rearing it’s ugly head. It didn’t have to be this way. Bryce Harper was out there. The Yankees passed. They didn’t even try.
This is a stupid statistic, it’s an early season fluke, but already in 2019, Bryce Harper has more homers than all of the aforementioned players combined.
It isn’t hindsight to say that the Yankees may have been penny wise and pound foolish to let a talent like Harper pass without even a glance.
Because of their lack of depth in the outfield, the Yankees signed Mike Tauchman at the end of spring training, it seems primarily because he is…left-handed. The Yankees began the 2019 season with Mike Tauchman on the big league roster. They did this before Giancarlo Stanton was hurt. They did this because they didn’t have outfield depth they thought they did or they said they did. They were one injury (Aaron Hicks) away from Mike Tauchman being a big leaguer. (I hope Tauchman is the latest great star found by Brian Cashman. It would be great. But having to find him at the eleventh hour doesn’t speak for a sound plan that was better than going after a player like Bryce Harper because the Yankees were supposedly deep in outfield depth. They simply weren’t. That was obvious from the start.)
My big concern with all of this will be that the sheer number of injuries to the current roster will obscure the fact that there was a solution, in part, to this outfield problem. The Yankees decided that they had a better plan.
Still, with or without the injuries, Harper would have fit this team like a glove. He was made for Yankee Stadium. To some, the injuries will be an excuse why the Yankees are off to a bad start. They will say this rash of injuries couldn’t have been planned. Again, I’m saying that even without the injuries, there was a place for Harper, but now that injuries have decimated the outfield, the lack of a player of his ability makes the decision not to pursue him even more glaring.
Also, I’m just talking baseball here, the on-field stuff. None of this even touches upon the star power, attention getting and excitement that Bryce Harper would have brought to the team – the energy and excitement, the jersey sales, and etc…
But, let’s move on. Now, let’s look at the infield…
No one could have foreseen Miguel Andujar getting hurt. His injury is devastating. This just might be a career changing injury for him. It’s horrible on a baseball level and even more on a personal level for Andujar. Getting Manny Machado as insurance for a possible Miguel Andujar injury would have made no sense.
But that’s not why the Yankees should have considered acquiring Manny Machado.
Let’s just look at this critically and honestly. Didi Gregorius was already hurt. No one knows when he’ll be back. There is a possibility that he’ll miss all of 2019. There is a possibility that if he does return in 2019 that he will not come back at the level of player he was before. Will his arm still be as strong? After missing a year, or even part of a year, how will his bat respond? The Yankees didn’t have to look to Machado as insurance for an Andujar injury, the need for another infielder was already there. The Yankees needed a shortstop.
In addition, Miguel Andujar was still an unknown quantity. There are analysts who suggest that Andujar (even before the injury) will never hit again as he did in 2018 – that 2018 was his high water mark offensively. (I don’t agree, but there is an argument to be made there.) And, of course, Andujar’s defense is, at best, suspect. He was a historically poor defender last year. The hopes were there (and he was putting in the work) for him to become better defensively, but the room for improvement was vast. Signing Machado as a core infielder to play either shortstop, if Gregorius wasn’t able to come back, or third base, if Andujar didn’t improve defensively, wouldn’t have been a bad baseball move. It would have been a smart baseball move.
The follow-up question would have been to ask, “What if Didi Gregorius comes back as the player he was before the injury while Andujar also blossoms? What then with Machado?” The answer there was also obvious. The Yankees still don’t have a DH, and there was the possibility that Andujar could move to first base where the Yankees have put their hopes on two players (Luke Voit, who had one great month and a half and Greg Bird, who has never been able to stay healthy or put it together in the big leagues). There was a strong likelihood that the Yankees could easily fit Gregorius, Andujar, and Machado on this team – all at the same time. But, it wasn’t a long shot to see that there was not a strong likelihood of Gregorius coming back, Andujar improving, and Voit and Bird both having excellent seasons. It was quite clear that even without Andujar suffering his terrible injury, that Manny Machado fit this team. There was a place for Manny Machado. That’s not hindsight. This was all apparent when the winter began.
But what if… what if Gregorius, Andujar, Bird, and Voit were all healthy and great? Then what would the Yankees have done? That would have been a fantastic problem for the team to have. It would have been highly unlikely, but if that did happen, the Yankees would then have been able to trade one of Andujar, Voit, or Bird for a solid pitcher or to fill another need.
Instead, the Yankees put their hopes on a player who didn’t play at all in 2018, a guy who has been an injury concern for much of career, and a guy who is 34 years old – Troy Tulowitzki. The Yankees’ plan was for Tulo to define time and logic and for him to come back as a solid Major League shortstop. This plan also asked Tulowitzki to defy his own injury history. The plan called for all of this to happen and for Tulowitzki to remain at a high level until Didi Gregorius comes back. Then the plan was for Gregorius to pick right up where he left off. That was the plan. If it all happened, it would have been (or it would still be) great. But it’s a plan that also defies a bit of logic and relies a lot more on hope than reality.
And, of course, Tulowitzki is now also hurt. The fact that this possibility existed was readily apparent.
Some might say, “No the Yankees put their hopes on D.J. LeMahieu and Tulowitzki.” I don’t think that’s the case. LeMahieu was acquired to be the super-sub. He was picked up to be 2019’s Neil Walker only much better. He was not acquired to be the shortstop.
It is not hindsight to say that there was a spot of Manny Machado on this team in 2019 even before Miguel Andujar got hurt. There was. Absolutely.
Finally, it was clear that the Yankees went into the off-season needing two starting pitchers. The acquisition of James Paxton was great. Super. Fantastic. This acquisition was another in a long line of great trades engineered by Brian Cashman.
But Paxton was just one guy. The Yankees needed two.
It was also not a stretch for the Yankees to think big here because there were/are injury concerns across the Yankees’ rotation. Masahiro Tanaka is an injury concern. James Paxton has batted injuries throughout his career. C.C. Sabathia was coming off heart surgery in addition to the fact that he’s old, has poor knees, and has battled more than his fair share of injuries and trips to the disabled list. And Luis Severino… maybe it’s just me, but when I start hearing “He has a tired arm,” I start to wonder if there is more there. The Yankees don’t necessarily have a history of being super honest (or, if they are being honest, then the better word here would be “accurate”) with (or about) the extent of some of their injury concerns. We have seen this time and time again as a supposed minor injury lingers and lingers for longer than anyone seemed to suppose at the outset.
There was definitely room in the rotation for a big time strikeout pitcher and a guy who can throw 200 innings like Patrick Corbin. That’s not hindsight. It’s just not. None of Tanaka, Paxton, or Severino has hit the 200 innings pitched mark in a season. Sabathia hasn’t done it since 2013. There was room for a guy who has recently thrown 200 innings
Instead of Corbin, the Yankees settled on J.A. Happ and have taken a flier now on Gio Gonzalez.
In short, the Yankees did have a chance to plan and protect against for some of what has taken place thus far this year. No, they would have never have signed all three of the big free agents, but even one of those players would have helped mitigate the disaster they are now facing.
No, no one would have anticipated this many injuries, but, to say that no one could have seen at least some of this occurring also isn’t being accurate. The Yankees would be a whole lot better off right now with Harper or Machado on the team. To say otherwise just isn’t being honest. To state that those players didn’t have a spot or a role on the team before the injuries is also not being accurate. Just one of those guys, just one, even another ace like Patrick Corbin (in spite of the fact that the starting pitching so far has been mostly terrific) would have made this injury disaster much more palpable.
Instead, the Yankees put their hopes on hope. They hoped that their core players wouldn’t get hurt. They hoped that some players would defy logic and suddenly become players without injury concerns. They are hoping that a 34 year old shortstop can be the player he was years ago, even though he hasn’t been that player in years. And they are hoping that all of the injured players can come back at the top of their games and that the fill-in players can somehow play well enough the keep them in the race until the stars return. The Yankees are asking a lot of their current roster right now.
My point is that the Yankees were always asking a lot. They were asking a lot of the entire team when they made the decision to pass on the mega stars this winter.
This winter was the time to enhance the strong young core with elite talent. It wasn’t the time to let the elite talent pass. It was the time to build the team that would be dominant. It was not the time to play it safe and to hope that the longs shots paid off.
It was clear at the start of the off-season, it was even clear last season, that any of Harper, Machado, or Corbin would have helped this team. But the Yankees decided to try a different route.
I still hope they are correct.
I don’t want the high water mark with this squad to be the 2017 team that just missed the World Series.
The opportunity was there to create the depth that was necessary. The Yankees let it pass.
Time will determine what the correct course of action would have been. In the short term, and a lot can change, it looks like the Yankees may have let their greatest opportunity, a generational opportunity, pass. As the new trend to lock-up young players and superstars to long term extensions now plays out, the Yankees won’t get an opportunity to bring in elite talent again or at least for a long time. What they have now is what they have. There is no going back.
It’s not hindsight to say that some of what has occurred in 2019 could have been predicted. It’s not hindsight to say that each of those superstars would have fit in comfortably in the Bronx – injuries or not.
It’s also not hindsight to say that some Yankees fans have a right to feel frustrated and a little cheated by the direction the franchise took this winter.
No, no one could have imagined injuries to Luis Severino, C.C. Sabathia, Troy Tulowitzki, Dellin Betances, Miguel Andujar, Aaron Hicks, and Giancarlo Stanton all at the same time. This is the worst case scenario. I have never seen anything like it. But the opportunity to protect against so many of the negative possibilities that have occurred this year was there, not by paying the big free agents to be insurance policies, but because there were sound, logical, and obvious reasons why each of those stars would have fit comfortably on this team, no matter what.