by Paul Semendinger
April 19, 2021
It’s getting ugly early.
The Yankees have played poorly. Very poorly. They can’t seem to turn it around. All of this is problematic.
Here are some of my most recent perspectives on the team:
The other day the fans were throwing items on the field. That’s horrible and uncalled for. Yes, this team has played poorly. Yes, fans are frustrated, but there is no excuse for fans acting in that manner. It’s horrible. Just stop.
At some point, the owner has to take an honest look at how this team has been constructed and managed. I don’t think Aaron Boone has done a good job managing this team. I have made this point countless times before. On Saturday, I showed that the Yankees have also given Boone a very long leash, longer than almost every other Yankees manager since 1920 (101 years), to produce a winner. He hasn’t. It is probably getting time for the Yankees to seek a new direction.
I am in disagreement with many in that I do not (yet) hold Brian Cashman as much at fault in all of this. I’d love to know how much of the roster decisions have been his and how much have been forced upon him by the owner’s desire to stay under the luxury tax. At some point, a GM cannot do what is necessary if his hands are tied. I believe Brian Cashman’s hands have been tied.
The Yankees have won the “Staying Under the Luxury Tax” game. It’s a shallow and meaningless victory for Yankees fans, but, sadly, the franchise itself, I believe, is very happy about this. I think that is their mission statement. Again, that’s sad to say.
The Yankees used to be defined by pennants and championships. This long period without them would have prompted them by now to invest big time, no-holds-barred, in building the best possible team for this. They have not done that.
D.J. LeMahieu is “the Machine” and all of that. He’s great. He’s awesome. BUT, my fear with the Yankees resigning him was that he would have to be other-worldly for that signing to make sense. He hasn’t been that this year. Not yet, at least. I am afraid that if he just becomes the player he was in Colorado (average season = .299/7/49), in other words, a nice player, a good piece, but not a superstar, the Yankees will be in trouble because this team is designed around the fact that D.J. has to be great. It was never logical to assume that D.J. LeMahieu would continue to be Superman.
My other concern about D.J. is that he’ll be 33 in July. Players at his age tend to slow down. Thus, if he becomes even slightly less than what he was in Colorado, the Yankees are in real trouble.
The Yankees bought high this winter on D.J. banking on the hopes that he’d be the player he was in 2019 and 2020. I think it was foolish of them to believe he’d be that player going forward. That’s nothing against D.J. LeMahieu, it’s just clear thinking.
This is not the first time the Yankees of recent years have acted this way – buying high on a player and banking that his recent success would be what defines that player going forward rather than the player’s previous history. From 2013-2017, Aaron Hicks batted .232/.315/.372. In that time, he averaged 9 homers a year. He never hit more than 15 in any season (which he did in 2017). His previous high before 2017 was just 11 home runs. Then came the 2018 season where Hicks batted .248/.366/.467 and where he blasted 27 home runs. After that season, the Yankees locked up Hicks for six years and congratulated themselves mightily for their brilliance.
In Aaron Hicks’ career before the 2018 season, he had played in 100 or more games only once. He never played in even 130 games in a season…ever.
In Aaron Hicks and D.J. LeMahieu, the Yankees invested heavily in years (at a lower salary, because that’s what seems to matter) for players coming off career best performances. That’s just not a great business model in any business (“Buy when the price is at its highest!”) and it especially doesn’t work in baseball. This is especially true when one just looks at a player’s previous performance over many years. All sorts of players have career years that bely most of their other numbers. That’s not the time to sign them long term. But that’s just what the Yankees did with each player.
Deals like the Hicks deal and the LeMahieu deals make sense if the ownership mandates staying under the cap. If there are strict parameters around the budget (which should never happen with baseball’s most valuable franchise – one worth over 6 billion dollars) then taking a chance on players to continue to defy their career norms makes sense. I believe that’s the system that Brian Cashman is operating under.
The Yankees need to shake things up – and quickly. They do not have any hot shot prospects that can come in right now. As such, they have only two options:
Make a big trade
Fire the manager
Before the season, I didn’t think firing Aaron Boone would happen this season. I’m not so sure any longer. In the last few games, I have heard the Yankees announcers on TV and radio, all of them, pointing out how fundamentally flawed this team is. I didn’t hear that as often the last few years on the broadcasts. I said it. Lots of writers here said it, but the Yankees’ announcers didn’t say it. They are saying it now. That’s usually a sign that the feelings of the people closest to the team are now also getting tired of the system. (I don’t believe the Yankees tell their announcers what to say, but being part of a organization sometimes leads to looking at things from rose colored glasses. I believe those rose colored glasses are getting difficult to see through.)
Outside of pitching, which the Yankees cannot afford to trade, they have, legitimately, one big trade chip. I think it’s time to explore trading that player…
Gleyber Torres has regressed. He is again showing that he’s not a championship level shortstop. D.J. LeMahieu’s presence (long term) basically shuts him out of second base. Torres is thus a player without a position. He should be starring on the other side of the infield. He’s not. That’s problem #1. Problem #2 is that he radically changed his approach to hitting (for which I have to blame the Yankees coaches). He is swinging from the heels on every pitch. Just watch him when he misses or fouls a ball off (which is often). He’s always falling backwards. He is off-balance continually. He is not the player he was. I’m not sure he can be that player again for the Yankees. But, he’s young, extremely talented, would be a great second baseman, and , as such, still has tremendous upside and value. Gleyber Torres could net a star player from another team.
My strength is not is figuring out possible trades. Others are much better at that. As such, I won’t propose any trade prospects for Gleyber Torres here. But he has a ton value. A ton, right now. He would bring back a great deal of talent. And trading him would sent a huge message to the rest of the team. That is what is needed now. Desperately.
The Yankee held onto other players such as Miguel Andujar and Clint Frazier when their value was at its highest. These were players, it is clear, that they were not ready to fully embrace. Yet, they refused to trade them. Frazier was named the starting left fielder for 2021, but he is on the bench a ton for a supposed starter. This isn’t how to handle an up-and-coming star, or even starter. Neither Andujar or Frazier would command much in a trade right now. They might never again. Gleyber Torres still has a ton of upside. But, if he’s swinging from the heels and hitting .215 without a bunch of homers and such by late May or June, his value will also plummet. I wanted Gleyber Torres to be one of the Yankees great stars. Unfortunately, he might be the only tradeable piece they can use to shake this all up.
Remember when the Yankees were universally praised for the great deals they made when they traded Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller? That was proof of how the Yankees were going to build the next championship core going forward. One step back, ten giant steps forward. These were brilliant moves, they all said. The players they acquired in those trades , five years ago were: Gleyber Torres, Clint Frazier, Billy McKinney, Adam Warren, Ben Heller, Justus Sheffield, and J.P. Feyereisen. Yeah. Those trades don’t look as great today.
Remember, over the winter, when I said, numerous times, that the Mets could quickly take over the city? Well, don’t look now, but the Mets are in first place. (The Yankees are in last place.)
I asked the following in a game thread on Sunday:
The Yankees are playing sloppy. They have played sloppy for a long while.
Why is this so?
1) Is it the manager’s fault? Did he prepare the team well enough in the pre-season? Does he stress the fundamentals as part of the team’s daily preparation? Do his coaches prepare the team well enough for the game?
2) This is the day of analytics. The fact that many of these players are not standouts fundamentally shouldn’t be a surprise. Yet, they were acquired and are playing regardless. Is the blame on the GM for building a roster of players that are not strong fundamentally?
In other words…
1) Is it Aaron Boone’s fault that skilled players are not playing to their level?
2) It is Brian Cashman’s fault because the lack of fundamental skills cannot be any surprise to the analytics
A team is never as bad as they look when they’re playing bad. Right?
Hey, who knows, the Yankees could run off a streak of ten wins in a row and those rose colored glasses can be shined again. Why not?
Let’s Go Yankees!