Perspectives: Being Realistic About 2020 and The Immediate Future
September 5, 2020
by Paul Semendinger
This is a flawed team. It does not seem likely that this team will win the World Series. It does not seem likely that this team will win the American League Pennant. It does not seem likely that this team will win the A.L. East. Even reaching the playoffs is in doubt right now. The mighty Yankees are trying to hold on to the last playoff spot.
Last year, even as everything seemed to fall apart, it all came together. “Next Man Up!” It worked, but it was an approach that couldn’t last. And it didn’t. A team just cannot win when its star players, the core of the roster, cannot stay on the field. The Yankees overcame that last year. It was impossible that they would again this year. And, of course, they haven’t.
The great young core, that was supposed to lead them forward, hasn’t been as great as all had hoped… and they aren’t so young any more. This is a win now team with a lot of questions that might now allow them to win now – or in the immediate future.
Gary Sanchez was supposed to be a cornerstone player for the Yankees. By now he should have started playing to and realizing his potential. It was speculated that one of the reasons the Yankees let Joe Girardi go as manager was because he was too hard on Gary Sanchez and the Yankees wanted to find a manager that would nurture their young star and help him break out into greatness. That hasn’t happened. Since the start of the 2018 season, Gary Sanchez is hitting just .202. Here’s a worse number – his on-base percentage in that span is just .298. It is time to wonder if greatness is in Gary Sanchez’s future. Gary, by the way, will be 28 next year. He’s no longer a kid.
D.J. LeMahieu has been amazing since the Yankees acquired him. He’s been so good. But he is now 32 and a free agent after the season. Keeping LeMahieu will probably take a big investment. I don’t know if the Yankees will be willing to spend for him. I’m also not sure, if LeMahieu wants to play for a winning team, if he would come back. Coming off two amazing years, this will be LeMahieu’s last big chance to get a big pay day. Would the Yankees give him four years to take him into his age 36 season? Is that even a good thing to do? D.J. might be better suited for a team ready to win immediately – and that team just might not be the Yankees.
Aaron Hicks is already signed to a long-term deal. A team-friendly one, too. Hicks has so much talent, but this year he is hitting only .216. He hasn’t shown much power (just three homers). Maybe, we have to give him a pass this year as he is coming back from Tommy John surgery. But, realistically, he has been a huge disappointment. Aaron Hicks is now 30 years old. Since coming to the Yankees in 2016, his batting average is just .240. He’s another player who was supposed to break out by now. And he hasn’t.
I’ve written a lot about Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. These were supposed to be the glory years for these two. These men were supposed to be the power that propelled the Yankees to greatness. These last two seasons were when the magic was supposed to be happening. These two stars, great great great players, cannot keep themselves on the field. Worse than that, though, is the fact that the injuries for both players are always baffling. Each injury seems to follow the same pattern:
“We removed him as a precaution. He had some stiffness.”
“It’s worse than we thought, but it won’t need a IL stint.”
“It’ll just be a short stay on the IL.”
“He hasn’t quite responded as we hoped.”
“We have no idea when he’ll return.”
Stanton will be 31 next year. Judge will be 29. They are missing their prime years. Soon those years will be behind them. And, like we said when Greg Bird was injured so often – not only are they missing time, but they’re missing the opportunity to develop and advance their skills. Players often just don’t jump back into the lineup and pick-up where they left off.
Gleyber Torres is young and has a very bright future. This year, though, he has struggled at the plate (.231 with but one home run) and he still doesn’t look very good or comfortable as a shortstop. Gleyber Torres might be better suited for second base, but if that’s the case, where would D.J. LeMahieu play if he does re-sign for 2021 (and beyond)? Two of the best Yankees play the same position. That’s a problem. LeMahieu can be a supersub, but again, if he wants to play second base, he might realize that the place to do that is not New York.
Brett Gardner looks done. He is signed though through next year. Gardy has been a fun Yankee – growing in popularity year-after-year. But when it ends, sometimes it ends quickly, and it might be over.
On the positive side, Luke Voit has been great. Clint Frazier just might be for real. Gio Urshela was doing well before his injury… But those players are supposed to be complementary pieces – not the ones to build around.
Then we look at the starting pitching…
Gerrit Cole will be the ace next year. And, he should be fine. But, he has struggled this year (after a fantastic start) and he leads the Major Leagues in home runs allowed which must give some pause, at least. As great as Cole might be, he cannot carry the starting staff on his own. And it seems he’s being asked to.
After Cole, who will make-up the 2021 rotation? Or, more immediately… who can the Yankees even turn to in 2020 to be a consistent winner?
Quick Quiz: Who has more wins in 2020, Gerrit Cole or J.A. Happ, Masahiro Tanaka, and James Paxton combined?
Quicker Answer: Gerrit Cole wins this battle 4-3.
Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ, and James Paxton were supposed to be the solid foundation that the pitching staff was built upon. Gerrit Cole was supposed to be headlining a solid rotation. But it hasn’t happened that way. Tanaka has been okay, but not great. Happ has pitched poorly. And James Paxton is hurt.
Tanaka (31), Paxton (31), and Happ (37) are all free agents after this season. I doubt any will return to New York at this point.
For 2021, all eyes look to Luis Severino and his triumphant return, but, for the most part, he has now missed two consecutive years to injury. Let’s also remember that while he started 2018 with a 14-2, 2.31 first half, after that it wasn’t so great. In the second half of 2018 Luis Severino went only 5-6, 5.57.
Isn’t it a lot to expect a pitcher coming off two lost years to pitch like he he did for the first half of the 2018 season? I think so. Counting on Luis Severino to be the #2 starter behind Gerrit Cole next year would be a fool’s errand. Yes, he still could be great, but it would be better to not have to rely on him to be a top-end starter right out of the gate.
But if not Severino, who?
Jordan Montgomery might be good. Clarke Schmidt has a bright future. So does Deivi Garcia, but… does any of this sound like a championship rotation?
Remember – these were supposed to be the championship years. Right now. This wasn’t supposed to be the time that the Yankees were looking a few years ahead to when their young pitchers blossomed. The new dynasty was supposed to be going strong right now.
Oh, and the bullpen.
The bullpen has been a disaster this year. And the big guys down there are not on the younger side. Zack Britton is 32. Aroldis Chapman is 32. Adam Ottavino is 34. The young Chad Green is 29. Tommy Kahnle is 31, but he just had Tommy John surgery.
The Yankees were built to win now. They haven’t.
The 2020 season has been one unlike any other. It’s difficult and challenging to base much on what we have seen, but it hasn’t looked as good or as great as we hoped. These last few weeks have shown that the Yankees are a flawed team.
But, we actually saw that last year.
The big difference last year was that the replacement players played like stars. The stars weren’t missed. This year the replacement players are playing like… replacement players.
It could be a long few seasons in New York for the Yankees.
I hope they prove me wrong.