Perspectives: Second Half Thoughts
by Paul Semendinger
July 14, 2023
It is no secret to all who read my articles that I am of the (very firm) belief that the Yankees should be sellers right now. I believe it is a fool's errand for the Yankees to consider a run at the playoffs. Sure, they might make it, but even if they do, it looks very unlikely that they will go deep into the playoffs.
I'd rather see the Yankees begin to retool now, immediately, than put the fans through an up and down second half and a disappointing playoff run. I'd rather watch Estevan Florial than Franchie Cordero or Greg Allen or Billy McKinney. I'd rather watch Oswald Peraza than Josh Donaldson or D.J. LeMahieu.
There are many Yankees fans and baseball "experts" who believe that players like D.J. LeMahieu, Anthony Rizzo, and Giancarlo Stanton have some life left in their bats. And they might. They just might... Right now is probably the last best chance the Yankees will ever have to trade them. Just as fans think they they just might have one last great drive in them, so might a general manager of a team that is contending.
Even if the Yankees don't get much of valuable from trading any of the veterans, jettisoning their salaries, or even parts of their salaries, will help the Yankees as they build for 2024 and beyond. If I were the Yankees, I'd rather eat part of Giancarlo Stanton's salary (as an example) for the rest of his contract, even if it's $15 million a year, than pay him and have him clog up the DH spot for years to come. I think we have all also seen, clearly, that he is no longer even an average outfielder. Sure, he catches what is hit at him, but he is lumbering, he is awkward, and he is slow. The other day, we saw him make a futile effort to throw a runner out at home when the correct play was to throw to third base to keep the runner who had been at second there.
We often hear about players with big contracts who can't be moved. At the same time, we often see players with big contracts who... are moved. It can be done. The Yankees need to do it.
One way the Yankees can be better in 2024 is to be younger and more athletic. That won't happen if much of the core is comprised of Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, D.J. LeMahieu, and Anthony Rizzo (among others). Judge isn't going anywhere, but it is time for those other players to go. If there was a strong likelihood that the 2023 Yankees could make a great run, I'd love for those players to have their moments of glory as Yankees. But it's a long shot. A long long shot. It's a long long long shot. It's... oh, you get the idea. The Yankees shouldn't be playing for one last short-term gain... they should be playing the long game and doing what is necessary to make the next years better than the previous ones.
The Yankees of today had their pennant runs. It's time to prepare for the Yankees of tomorrow.
If the Yankees are to contend in the second half and make a legitimate run, much is going to depend on Gerrit Cole's right arm. He has been, far and away, the most valuable Yankee in 2023.
A big concern is that, and I know people will disagree with me on this, he is pitching over his head. He's a very very very good pitcher, maybe even great, but his career says that he's not this good. And, if he's not this good, for the rest of the season, the Yankees will be in serious trouble.
When people say, "Once Nestor comes back..." and "Rodon should be great..." they're also assuming that there is no regression for Gerrit Cole. Unfortunately, a regression seems likely.
Here are some sobering stats...
Gerrit Cole's lifetime ERA+ is 128. This season his ERA+ is 148
In his career, Cole has had an ERA+ for a full season of 148+ or higher only three times
Gerrit Cole's lifetime ERA in a season's first half is 3.06. His lifetime ERA in a season's second half is 3.47
Last season, Gerrit Cole was 9-2, 3.02 in the season's first half. He was 4-6, 4.12 in the second half.
In 2021, Gerrit Cole was 9-4, 2.68 in the season's first half. He was 7-4, 4.14 in the second half.
In short, if Gerrit Cole pitches to his career and recent norms in the second half, the Yankees will not have a chance to contend. They simply will not.
Gerrit Cole, by the way, will turn 33-years-old in September.
There is talk, and it might happen, that the Yankees will get Cody Bellinger. If they do, there will be part of me that starts to imagine what could possibly be.
If Bellinger is back to the player he was, that would be a huge upgrade.
Unfortunately, he might or might not be. Before this year's resurgence, he hadn't been an elite player since 2019. The Yankees have too many players whose best days were years ago. They don't need another.
In 2019, D.J. LeMahieu was fourth in the voting for AL MVP. In 2019, Josh Donaldson was 11th in the NL voting.
News Flash... it ain't 2019 any longer.
Bellinger could help the "last grasp chance" for this current iteration of the Yankees, but he's not part of the solution for the Yankees of tomorrow. A smart ballclub knows that, recognizes that, and does not trade for him.
I wrote this before, but... maybe Sean Casey will be a great coach. Maybe he'll be amazing. He's almost guaranteed to be successful because the Yankees hitters can't get worse. They'll all get a little better. They almost have to.
I have to wonder, though, how much do veterans like Giancarlo Stanton, Anthony Rizzo, and the like even listen to a hitting coach. A lot of these guys, former stars, are the Sean Caseys of today.
Sean Casey also had a quick exit from the game. His career was over at 33-years-old. I keep reading that, "He knows how to hit. The guy batted .302 for his career." True. But, he also didn't hit into his mid-30's and that's what the Yankees need him to be able to teach. He has to be able to teach the lumbering under-performing quickly aging veteran bats who have done very little in the season's first half. .
Can he teach the Yankees' veteran hitters to do what he himself did not do?
If the Yankees decide to sell in 2023. They should also move on from Aaron Boone who has not demonstrated the ability to nurture young talent. At all.
If the Austin Wells chicken parm story is true, what also isn't being said is that Boone also did nothing to help his young would-be star. It wasn't just Dillon Lawson who failed the kid.
A new manager should be part of the repackaged and reformatted 2024 Yankees.
The Yankees begin the second half playing terrible teams. They could win a ton of games, which I fear, as I did in the games before the break, that if they do, they'll create a mirage. They might look better than they truly are.
That would not be a good thing for the future of the franchise. That might convince the Yankees to make more longshot deals that might help in 2023, but certainly won't help in 2024 and beyond.
If the Yankees struggle coming out of the break, the handwriting will be clearly on the wall. It'll be self-evident to all that it's over.
The Starr Insurance patch coming to the Yankees' unform is such an affront to Yankees tradition. At this point, since it all just a money grab, the Yankees should just sell the naming rights to the stadium. Imagine how much they could get for that. The new park could be called "(Corporate Name) Field at (Corporate Name) Stadium." Maybe the Yankees could even have the outfield and infield sponsored by different companies. The pitcher's mound too. And home plate. Why not?
What the Yankees should do is should stop pretending that they care about tradition. They don't. At all.
It seems the Yankees will bring in a fortune from the patches. According to the NY Post:
"The team announced Wednesday that Starr Insurance will become the storied franchise’s signature partner, and the company’s logo will be featured on the club’s uniforms in a deal that will annually net the Yankees in the mid-$20 millions, according to a person with knowledge of the deal.
The deal will run through 2031, and is believed to be the most lucrative in MLB history."
Now, if the Yankees ever claim that they need to "contain spending" and all of that nonsense or if they talk about luxury tax thresholds and the rest, you'll know where their interests truly lie - in making money. And, to be clear, that's fine. Good for them.
All baseball teams, all sports teams, are in business to make money. And the Yankees seem to making tons of it. If that's their primary goal, they are, actually, very good at it.
Still, for long time fans, that's a big departure from George Steinbrenner's days when the goal was to win. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure Steinbrenner knew that winning more meant more revenue. But he was always trying to win the most and always in the mix for acquiring the best players.
I much preferred when the goal of the team was to win. As a fan, I want my team to be all-in.
Now, I know what will come from my comments saying anything good about George Steinbrenner... a backlash - "He was a disgrace!" "He ruined the team." I expect to read those sentiments in the comments.
One less-than-accurate assessment of George Steinbrenner was that "the Yankees only won when he was suspended." That is simply untrue. Yes, it was during that second suspension that Gene Michael and Buck Showalter started setting the groundwork for the success that came, but a lot happened, a ton, once Steinbrenner returned.
George Steinbrenner's second suspension ended in 1993 and they didn't start winning championships until after he came back. Much of the last great Yankees core was acquired after Steinbrenner came back from suspension. This includes David Cone, Tino Martinez, El Duque, Darryl Strawberry, Scott Brosius, Joe Girardi, Chuck Knoblauch, Roger Clemens, David Wells, on and on and on. George spent the money necessary to allow the team to go all-in to win. That was the first goal for the Yankees - to win.
People also often talk about how George Steinbrenner traded away all his prospects, but that's also not completely true. Yes, in the 1980s numerous prospects who became stars were traded away. But... Willie Randolph came to the Yankees as a prospect from the Pirates. He stayed around. Ron Guidry came through the farm system. Don Mattingly too. Dave Righetti was acquired as a minor leaguer.
And, George Steinbrenner was not suspended when the likes of Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Derek Jeter (and others) all came of age. Even Bernie Williams didn't truly "arrive" until after Steinbrenner returned. He didn't trade away any of those guys. It's easy to say, "Steinbrenner would have traded away Jeter," and "He tried to trade Mariano..." But, he didn't.
It seems clear to me that George Steinbrenner changed his ways and learned from his past mistakes.
Under Steinbrenner, both Buck Showalter and Joe Torre (especially Torre) had long tenures as managers - another change in approach that Steinbrenner made.
Did Steinbrenner's approach always work? No. Not at all. Were there periods of great embarrassment? Yes. Absolutely. Did I hate the constant firings and hirings? Yes. Did I hate the chaos? Yes.
Did I love that the Yankees number one concern was winning? Yes.
Under George Steinbrenner, the Yankees reached the World Series in 1976, 1977, 1978, 1981, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, and 2009. I don't believe any other team has had this much success since 1973. That success would not have happened without George Steinbrenner.
Since George Steinbrenner's passing, the Yankees have never reached a World Series.
The longest the Yankees went between World Series was from 1981 to 1996. That was a long 15 years. It wasn't all fun, but, also as I have written, the Yankees of the 1980s would have qualified for numerous playoffs under the current rules. The Yankees were a good, not great, club into the late 1980s.
If the Yankees don't reach the World Series in 2023, it'll now be 14 years without getting to the big dance. In other words, the current era is reaching the longest down period of the George Steinbrenner era.
Also, the current Yankees have been to one World Series in 20 years (2004-current). This is one of the worst periods in all of Yankees history. It is a longer period without winning than any that George Steinbrenner presided over.
Or, how's this?
1965-1972 (8 years before George Steinbrenner) - 0 World Series
1973-2009 (The George Steinbrenner Era) - (11 World Series, 7 World Championships)
2010-2023 (14 years after George Steinbrenner) - 0 World Series
There is ample to critique and criticize regarding George Steinbrenner, but what is also true is that the success the team had since 1973 came because of George Steinbrenner's commitment to winning. George Steinbrenner, for all his faults, was a big reason why the Yankees won. That can't be denied.
One can't celebrate the 1977-78 and the 1996-2000 eras without recognizing that George Steinbrenner was a huge part of that. Today we are seeing what it looks like post-George Steinbrenner. Thus far, they've never been to the big dance.
The second half of 2023 is going to be very interesting.
I hope the Yankees make wise decisions...