Perspectives: This Is Not A Surprise
by Paul Semendinger
May 2, 2023
I know there is this optimistic hope out there that somehow the Yankees are going to right the ship.
I know that when I share honest (right now negative) perspectives on the state of the Yankees that some (many) push back and say, "You're wrong!" I keep hearing about the players coming back who are going to right the ship...
I wish I could agree. It's May 2. I don't want to watch a long mediocre season of Yankees baseball. I want to be wrong about this team. I want them to be good.
I'd like to know where to find the optimism. Unfortunately, I don't see a good path forward by the Yankees.
I just don't see it.
This isn't a deep team. There is no fallback position. There is no bench, no superstars to come riding into the sunset to save the day. The players who are coming back (hopefully soon?) are not players who inspire me or give me hope. The players who are coming back are players with huge question marks, except Aaron Judge, but the problems with this team were apparent before Judge got injured.
In today's NY Post, it was reported that Harrison Bader might come back soon. The Yankees seem to feel he is just about ready. What makes him ready? He played three whole games, one of them a full nine innings, in the outfield.
From the Post:
"From Friday through Sunday, he played games on three straight days with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, manning center field for seven innings and then nine innings before DHing Sunday."
I'm sorry if I'm not inspired. That does not fill me with hope. Three whole games! Bader played seven innings and then nine innings, and then he was a DH. To me that seems a player working on coming back, not one that is back. Imagine reading that, not in 1930 when Gehrig never missed a day, but even a year or two ago. "We're pretty excited, he played in parts of three consecutive games!"
Also from the Post:
"In seven minor league games, Bader has gone 3-for-25 with a double and two walks, which does not concern Boone."
I know the Yankees talk about process, but for me, I'd rather see results. I'm not inspired by a player batting .120 against minor league pitching. Sure, it's a small sample. But we see this a lot, and have for years. "He is hitting the ball hard. They're just not falling right now."
It feels to me like the Yankees are grasping for straws.
Luis Severino is still a few weeks away. A few weeks is mid-to-late May. That wasn't a little injury. He has missed just about the first two months of the season.
I am tired of hearing how the injury doesn't seem so bad the day before a player goes on the IL.
We always hear, "It's a few days," before it becomes a month or two... or worse.
I am tired of hearing how well a player swung the bat as he's hitting poorly...
I am tired of hearing how good a pitcher looks as he loses another game...
With the Aaron Boone Yankees, these things seem to happen all of the time. They talk about process, not results. But baseball is a game that depends on results. Yes, a team must have a good process, but it must be a process that leads to results. And the Yankees' process, for a good long time, has been flawed.
We saw this clearly as they planned for 2023:
The Yankees built a team with one left-handed bat. That's not good planning. That's not a good process.
The Yankees built a starting rotation based on an injured pitcher (Montas) and a pitcher (Severino) who has been injured and has missed significant time every season since 2019. They did not have a back-up plan for those two pitchers after trading away a solid starter last year (Jordan Montgomery) and also trading away most of the top pitching talent in the minors (for an injured pitcher). That's not good planning. That's not a good process.
The Yankees planned on having Harrison Bader as the everyday centerfielder. They did not have a back-up plan (other than moving Aaron Judge out of position) to fill in when Harrison Bader proved unable to play. The Yankees had to know that Harrison Bader has never played every day. Since 2018, he has appeared in only 71% of his team's games. Over the previous two seasons (2021 and 2022), he's played in just 58% of his team's games. Does that sound like a player who can be counted on to be in the lineup on a daily basis? Could the Yankees have been surprised that he's missed more than the first month of the season? Why wasn't there a back-up plan? That is simply not good planning. It's bad process. It was shortsighted.
Aaron Hicks was counted on to rebound. Why? Over his last three seasons, he's batted a combined .215. Where is the evidence that he somehow is able to hit again? This is a player who hit over .250 once since 2016. Last year, he seemed completely detached at times. This year, the same. Hicks was the plan to be the Yankees left fielder, or at least a big part of the mix out there. There were no results to support the idea that he might bounce back. It was just hope. I don't believe championships are built on hope...
Supposedly Josh Donaldson and Giancarlo Stanton, were also going to stay healthy and dominate with their bats as if it were years ago - again despite the fact that neither has been very productive recently. Stanton hit .211 last year. He also missed 72 games. Over the last four seasons, he has played in only 53% of the Yankees' games. He has a long and significant injury history, yet we were told that he'd be healthy and also able to play the outfield well. Donaldson batted only .222 last year. It's not a surprise that both are out with injuries and that neither was hitting much to start.
The bullpen was built on pitchers who have been injured with significant injuries, not years ago, but last year.
Oswaldo Cabrera was supposed to be a breakout player. I love his energy, but where is the evidence or body of work that stated that he was a hitter ready to perform in the big leagues? Here are his minor league batting averages:
2022 (52 games): .269
2021 (118 games): .272
2020: Did not play
2019: (120 games): .260
2018: (126 games): .229
2017: (112 games): .253
2016: (52 games): .345
In 2021, he did hit 29 homers. That was the only time, though, in all those years, he reached double digits in homers across his long minor league career.
I love Cabrera's spirit. I love his energy. But, he does not have a body of work that reads (to me, at least), "This guy is ready to dominate in the big leagues." I'm not sure he has the history to say that he is even ready to be an average big league hitter yet. Maybe he'll come around. I hope he does. It seems, though, because they had no other alternatives (poor process) that the Yankees rushed him. On top of that, the Yankees are playing him out of his natural position (infield) because they don't have other outfielders.
The New York Yankees never addressed the need to have enough actual outfielders for the 2023 season. (Isiah Kiner-Falefa, as we know, also a lifelong infielder, is also trying his hand out in the outfield as well because there are no other options.)
The Yankees are now playing Oswald Peraza at third base in the big leagues. He never played third base in the minors. Ever. With the Yankees these last two seasons, it has been on the job training at baseball's highest level. Does that seem like a good process?
Then again, the manager of this team, never had any prior experience with running a team at any level. He had never been a coach. For the Yankees, they felt it was a great idea for their manager to learn on the job. He's been learning ever since.
When did the big leagues become the place to experiment?
Remember, this isn't supposed to be a team that is rebuilding where you might expect them to try some out-of-the-box approaches. This was supposed to be a World Series contending team. This has been a team, since at least 2017, that is supposed to be World Series bound every year.
Is any of this good process?
If fans can see these problems a mile away, and have written about them for months, and years, why couldn't the Yankees have seen them?
Where is the hope coming from? I'd love to be as optimistic as the people who believe the Yankees will turn this around.
I just don't see it.
It was a flawed team from the start. It is just playing out in real time now. We're seeing the result of the process - a flawed process that is actually producing the results that seemed evident from the start.
Since June 30, 2022, the Yankees have been a .500 team. That's not a small sample size. It's who they are. These are your 2023 Yankees. And I don't have any good reason to believe that they have the players, the depth, the resources, or the process to be able to turn it around.
I hope I'm wrong. I hope I'm very wrong. (But I suspect I'm not.)