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Saturday in the Park

by Ed Botti

January 7, 2022


It has been a pretty busy first week of 2023 in the Yankee Universe.

While most of us are checking our various sources for that “big” trade we keep hearing about and hoping for, the Yankees pivoted from on field acquisitions and added a couple of interesting pieces to their front office.

It is a little unusual that they have decided to add depth to their talent evaluation team at a point in the offseason when most free agents are already signed, by bringing in 2 former General Managers to aid and assist Brian Cashman.

That leads me to think that they are looking at deals and trades, and wanted/needed more eyes and perspectives on who goes and who they acquire.

Some of you may recall that following the 2019, 2021 and 2022 seasons, I endorsed a GM change and my first and only pick was to bring back Brian Sabean.

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Some of you may also recall that he began his MLB career as a Yankee scout in 1985, eventually being promoted to Director of Scouting in 1986 and Vice President of Player Development/Scouting in 1990.

His roots are with the Yankees.

Besides the fact that he built 3 world championship winning teams with the Giants (2010, 2012, 2014), he also built a completely home grown World Series winning infield with catcher Buster Posey, first baseman Brandon Belt, second baseman Joe Panik, shortstop Brandon Crawford, and third baseman Pablo Sandoval.

Before leaving the Yankees to become Giants GM in 1993, he drafted or signed as amateurs Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and J. T. Snow (Snow was later traded for Jim Abbott) amongst others.

I’d say he knows what he is doing. Too bad he is not the GM.

The Yankees then doubled down a day later and brought in Ex Met and Expo GM Omar Minaya as the team’s Senior Advisor to Baseball Operations. I am not as high on Minaya as I am on Sabean.

The two biggest errors, in my opinion, Minaya made as a GM were first and foremost the way he fired Willie Randolph as Mets Manager.

Willie deserved and earned better treatment and respect.

He also made one of the worst trades in memory as GM of the Expos. For a one half of a season from Bartolo Colon, he dealt away the 2008 AL Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee along with future All-Stars Brandon Phillips and Grady Sizemore.

He also is known for trading away other young players such as Jason Bay (2004 Rookie of the Year, All-Star in 2005, 2006, & 2009, Top 25 in MVP Voting 2005 & 2006), Carl Pavano (2004 All-Star and Cy Young Award candidate) and Chris Young (2007 All-Star).

He is also responsible for many very good trades and acquisitions. Minaya will bring over four decades of baseball experience to the Bronx to go along with Sabean.

This should help bring a new perspective to the organization that has recently been labeled “stagnant” and “sluggish” by many in the industry.

Were these moves made by Cashman, or was he instructed to beef up the front office with people less analytics driven?

If you listen to the YES Network talking heads that are all paid for by the Yankees, they would have you believe that these moves were made by Cashman.

Personally, I am not so sure. I think that Hal and his investors may be a little tired of seeing teams with much lower payrolls knock them out of the playoffs year after year, and want a different approach, and that a part of Cashman’s extension agreement was to have more experienced help in the player evaluation department.

One can only hope that they have opened their eyes and realized that the approach they have been employing over the last several years was fool’s gold, and that Baseball is still a game played on the field and not on an Excel spreadsheet.

Also this week, the Yankees lost a piece of their bullpen depth to a division opponent.

On Thursday, the Toronto Blue Jays claimed righty reliever Junior Fernandez off waivers.

Fernandez has been moved around a bit in his short career.

He was originally signed by the Cardinals in 2014 and he was ranked as high as their No. 9 overall prospect in 2016 by Baseball America.

The Yankees had designated Fernandez for assignment on December 21, the day they officially added free agents Tommy Kahnle and Carlos Rodon to the 40-man roster.

Fernandez was claimed off waivers from the Pirates on November 18 and never threw a single pitch as Yankee.

At this point it does not seem like a huge hit to them.

He has made 50 appearances over parts of four seasons. He spent 3 years with the Cardinals before pitching in 3 games with the Pirates last season. He has a career 5.17 ERA in the majors. At Triple-A, he has a 4.12 ERA.

Fernandez repertoire features a sinker, but his slider had an exceptional swing and miss rate of 44% last season.

Toronto saw something in him that the Yankees did not. I can’t argue with this move.

Bringing in Sabean and Minaya seem like good moves, but still leaves them with the same issues they had:

Who plays third base, shortstop, second base and left field?

The longer they wait to address these critical positions, the more good prospective players will be moved to other teams. In other words, opportunities lost.

Let’s take a look at left field.

They sat back and did nothing as Benintendi, Brantley, Conforto and Nimmo all signed elsewhere.

Whether fake news or not, they communicate confidence in Giancarlo Stanton’s ability to play the outfield “at times”.

Stanton is that square peg they keep trying to fit into a round hole, as they see him more as a right fielder in Yankee Stadium and a left fielder away from home.

Last I checked, they just paid their right fielder $360MM, so no need for him in right field.

So what now? He plays some games on the road in left field? Giancarlo can clearly turn a game around with one swing, I get it. But what he has shown us is that he is a much better player when he is fully engaged and plays defense.

But, they are afraid to play him full time in the field.

I say play him every day in left field, if he can’t hack it, so be it. He is not a good DH. He needs to play full time.

He will be paid $32MM in 2023, he has 6 more years on the books. Trading him is not an option, as I doubt any other team would be willing to take on the years and money that Cashman took on when he acquired him.

It’s too bad Sabean wasn’t around when Cashman made that move in 2018!

If he is not going to be a full time outfielder, and now that they let Benintendi leave, what options remain?

Cashman and Hal have told us all this offseason how they are confident in any of the following playing left field.

Hicks. Cabrera. Florial.

I don’t take them serious at all.

Hicks had his chance, and failed.

Cabrera is an infielder who showed me in the post season he has trouble coming in on balls.

Florial has trouble identifying pitches and swings and misses much too much. If they really did believe in him, we would have saw much more of him in 2022.

So regardless of what they are telling us, they do not have a MLB left fielder.

So what can they do?

Over the last 2 + years, I have been a supporter of Trent Grisham to the Yankees.

Photo by Denis Poroy

Grisham would be a large upgrade over the Yankees’ internal options for left field. Several projection systems predict Grisham as having at least double the wins outputs of Cabrera, Florial or Hicks.

He did have a down 2022, but rebounded in the postseason and contributed a few huge hits for the Padres, especially in the two series against the Mets and Dodgers.

He already has won a gold glove, hits at the top of the lineup, is left handed, has speed and knows how to play the game the right way.

It won’t come cheap.

He is a 26 year old lefty hitting outfielder under team control for three more seasons. The Padres are looking for major league starting pitching in return. Not exactly something the Yankees have in excess, but they need to be aggressive.

A Package centered on Domingo Germán and Clarke Schmidt, if they take on Aaron Hicks' 3 years and $30MM is a good starting point.

Padres GM A. J. Preller likes to make moves, and do it quickly. I would be on the phone with him.

My other target is also in his mid-20, and a lefty who would fit nicely in left field. Austin Meadows who has two more years under arbitration before reaching free agency would fit in well in the outfield.

He has a lot of upside, very little risk and has a great Yankee Stadium swing.

The Tigers are in a much different position then the Padres are in with respect to competing in 2023.

The biggest area of need for the Tigers is catching. Eric Haase and Jake Rogers are decent hitters but leave a lot to be desired defensively.

The Yankees may have a match with Ben Rortvedt. They would also have to add to that deal with other close to MLB ready position players such as outfielders Brandon Lockridge or Everson Pereira.

I have seen rumors of Elijah Dunham being in a deal. I saw him play this past summer, and I would not deal him.

They would also have to add an arm to the mix. I’d offer one of either Albert Abreu or Luis Gil.

Either Grisham or Meadows would be a big upgrade and a signal to the fan base that they are serious about 2023.

Next on to do list is the infield! And trust me, a lot has to be done to ¾ of the infield. As is, it is not a championship caliber infield.

I am not drinking the Cashman Kool-Aid, the infield is in bad shape, but it can be fixed.

Before doing my piece on the infield, I want to ask each of you to give me you reply to one question for the following players.

Josh Donaldson, IKF and Gleyber Torres,

Are they part of the problem or solution?

I plan on breaking that down for us next week.

Happy New Year!

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