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Perspectives – March 10, 2020: Windows Closing/Window Closed?

This was a post (like my response to the Aaron Judge Tuesday Discussion question coming at 10:00 a.m.) that I didn’t want to write, but I think I have to…

I just have this feeling, this terrible feeling, that the Yankees’ window to be great, to be a powerhouse team, a dynasty in the making, isn’t just closing – that it already closed. I just have this feeling that their opportunity to be a juggernaut has already passed us by.

It that possible? Could it be that the Yankees, who so many are so exited about, might be heading for a disappointing season? More and more, I am thinking so. And, if 2020 isn’t a great year, I just have to wonder if the team will get better as it ages. Again, I just don’t think so.

Sometimes things happen…and what happened to this team is that it just keeps breaking.

A team cannot stay competitive if it’s starters and stars aren’t in the lineup.

In 2019, the Yankees amazed the world by having the magical happen – “Next Man Up.” A player would go down with an injury and the next guy would jump in and shine. It was fun and remarkable and amazing. It was fun and remarkable and amazing because things like that don’t happen often (if ever) in sports. It was fun and remarkable and amazing because it defied logic and reason and common sense. It was so fun, so great, and so wonderful, but they just cannot count on that happening again. And the way the 2020 season is shaping up, already , it seems like they have to count on that happening again.

Let’s just look at a few positions starting with the outfield. Teams have to prepare for injuries to individual players. And the Yankees have. What teams cannot do is plan for an entire corps of players to go down with injuries. But this is exactly what has happened to the 2020 Yankees’ projected outfield. Giancarlo Stanton has barely played in Spring Training. (“He’s getting closer though…”) This is following a lost season for him. Stanton is now 30-years old. It is possible, if not probable, that his best days are behind him. How much will he even be in the lineup this year? Then there is Aaron Judge. He, too, can’t stay healthy. No one knows how long he’ll be out or when he’ll come back. If he has rib surgery, will he even be able to get back in 2020? I have to wonder what his long-term prospects are. (I hate saying that.) Often forgotten about in these discussions is Aaron Hicks who was supposed to be the starting center fielder. The Yankees are hoping that he returns by mid-season. Hicks, by the way, is now 30-years old as well. He has had one season where he had over 400 plate appearances. He’s a also a lifetime .236 hitter. (Admit it, that number shocked you…right?)

I hate to say it, but does that sound like a starting outfield primed for a big 2020 season followed by a bright future? I don’t see it. What the Yankees might have is an aging outfield of brittle players whose best days are already behind them. If that’s true, this core component of the lineup doesn’t speak to an opening window, it speaks to one that is shutting.

Looking at this in a different way, with the loss of Hicks, Stanton, and Judge, the Yankees have arguably lost three of their top five batters in their lineup. One might argue that they have lost their #2, #3, and #4 hitters. It’s awfully difficult to replace three players this important to a team. One could argue that it’s impossible.

Is it possible that Clint Frazier finally puts it all together in 2020?

Is it possible that Brett Gardner continues to defy age and has another big season?

Is it possible that Mike Tauchman is the real deal and he remains a better than average player?

Is it possible that Miguel Andujar can even play outfield?

Without Hicks, Judge, and Stanton…the Yankees need all sorts of magic from Clint Frazier, Brett Gardner, Mike Tauchman, and Miguel Andujar to cover the outfield and play well enough to compete at the highest levels. To me, that new group just does’t scream “Championship Outfield!” I see them as nice players, good players, even (at times) above average players (or for Frazier and Andujar above average hitters), but I’m not so confident that this is a championship quality squad.

But, even if the Yankees withstand this assault to the core of their team, there are still other holes, big holes, that exists.

Gary Sanchez, who has had a long injury history himself, is experiencing back pains and has been shut down. He is out of the line-up until at least Friday. We’ve seen this before… Friday becomes Sunday. Sunday becomes Wednesday. Wednesday becomes Saturday. Another week passes. But even if Sanchez does come back, is he a player who a championship window can be built around? Again, it’s questionable. He is another player that just cannot stay healthy. He’s a great talent, he’s a middle-of-the order hitter, but if he can’t stay on the field, he doesn’t help the team.

If Sanchez misses any significant time in 2020, the Yankees will lose another middle of the order bat in the lineup. How many middle-of-the-order hitters can a team reasonably expect to lose and stay competitive?

And then there is the starting rotation…

Yes, we are all excited about the prospect of the young arms… they might be great! But it’s the older arms that concern me. Luis Severino (not old, but a veteran and who was supposed to be a top-end starter) is out for 2020. He’ll be out for much of 2021 also. He didn’t pitch much in 2019. When he comes back, rather than being ticketed as the ace or the #2 pitcher, he’s going to be a question mark. James Paxton is again injured – with the hopes that he doesn’t miss more than a month or two of the season. He’s also a free agent at the end of the year. The injuries to Severino and Paxton move Jordan Montgomery and J.A. Happ into much more significant roles on the 2020 team and while there is hope there, it’s just that, hope. Paxton and Severino are higher-end pitchers at this point that the aging J.A. Happ and the young (but coming back from a major injury himself) Jordan Montgomery. Teams often do not thrive when they lose 40% of their starting rotation before mid-March.

In short, the starting rotation as it stands right now does not, immediately, make someone think of a championship, let alone a series of championships.

It is possible that the core components of the 2020 Yankees, the players that were supposed to be leading them to a championship and championships , has already peaked. It is possible that we have already seen the best of Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, Luis Severino, and Giancarlo Stanton. It’s also possible that their replacements might turn out to be much less than hoped. If that’s the case, it is possible that the window isn’t just closing.

It’s possible that the window has already closed.

I hope I’m wrong about this.

I hope I’m very wrong.

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