SSTN Mailbag: Dominguez's Elbow, Catcher, And Chaim Bloom!
Last week at this time, I noted that for the first time in awhile, I was excited to watch Yankee baseball. I had long waited for Jasson Dominguez to appear in the Majors, as I thought he was the "real deal" in every look I had at him. The combination of watching Dominguez and the rest of the Baby Bombers Part II fill out the lineup in September gave me a reason to watch the games. This past Sunday, I finally made it out to see a Somerset Patriots game (and yes, you're going to get a series of scouting reports on players/prospects we all care about in the very near future), and it was a fantastic experience. I drove the whole 50 minutes home with a smile on my face...only to walk in the door to my house and discover that The Martian had torn his UCL.
In one shot, it felt like the last balloon I had for this season popped. Yes, I still care about watching Peraza, Cabrera, Wells, Pereira, Vasquez, Brito, and whoever else fills spots on the pitching staff, but somehow all of those pleasant feelings are now severely dulled. I guess I hope that the team finishes above .500, but at this point, I also wouldn't mind getting a draft picks a few spots higher...which feels strange to say as a Yankee fan. I don't think this year was meant to make any of us happy, so the baseball gods ensured that we'd maintain that feeling the whole way through. The baseball gods giveth, and the baseball gods taketh.
As always, thanks for the great questions, and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. In this week's SSTN Mailbag, we'll take a deeper dive on Dominguez's injury, discuss the catching situation for next season, and take a fast look at Chaim Bloom's firing! Let's get at it:
Tony D. asks: Dominguez has a torn elbow and needs Tommy John. At best, he'll be back in the middle of next season. It also feels like the Yankees have had more position players than other teams who have needed Tommy John (Didi, Hicks, etc). Is there more to this story than bad luck? What does this mean for his future?
The reports on how Dominguez tore the elbow and when the Yankees knew he had an injury were all over the place initially. Now that the dust has settled, we appear to have a complete picture. Dominguez began feeling elbow soreness during the Houston series sometime between Saturday and Sunday. He played through it (as a rookie trying to make his mark, I can understand why he did this) until Wednesday, when the pain became significant enough that he told the training staff. After Wednesday, he continued to play in games (!), until the coaching staff noticed that he couldn't hit with any pop during batting practice on Sunday, at which point Dominguez was sent for an MRI.
Given those facts, here are my thoughts: If the training staff found out about Dominguez's elbow on Wednesday, did they alert the coaching staff and the front office? If not, that is an egregious breakdown in communication. If the training staff did alert the coaching staff and/or the front office, what in the name of Mickey Mantle are you doing?!? You have a prospect who is a consensus Top-50 Prospect in the game (and many have him as a Top-25 Prospect). Knowing that the guy is just itching to make his mark at the big league level, doesn't it send up alarm bells that he actually went the training staff of his own volition to report elbow soreness that was getting progressively worse?
The Yankees do not get the benefit of the doubt here. Remember, the beginning of the end for Luis Severino's durability was 2019, when the Yankees chose not to give Sevy an MRI on two separate occasions, allowing him to make injuries worse. The reason? MRI machines made Sevy uncomfortable and they didn't want to put him through undue discomfort. HUH?!?!?! In retrospect, this was the first indication in neon lights that everyone in the organizational training staff needed to be relieved of their duties. Cashman promised that those issues were being addressed in 2020, yet here we are today. We see the same issues time and time again. It's truly absurd. Let's even forget about the obvious human factor here. If I'm the owner of a business and I watched as people mishandled my investments repeatedly over a pattern of years, why would I continue to allow those people to manage my investments?
So yes, in answer to Tony's first question, I do see a pattern. Elbows go when people throw hard, and all of the people (Gleyber Torres is a separate case, as he tore his UCL on his non-throwing arm sliding) mentioned above have/had great arms. Didi already had a partially torn UCL (a fact that was revealed later) that was a ticking time bomb, so maybe his torn UCL was coming, and Hicks tore his on a single throw after a series of back and oblique injuries...could he have been compensating for those injuries, thus affecting his mechanics? While it's easy to dismiss the Yankees' involvement in these injuries, the doubt comes from their consistent and truly mind-boggling mismanagement of player injuries for at least half a decade.
What does this mean for Dominguez's future? I'm not sure yet. None of us will be until he's fully recovered. Tommy John Surgery (and the lesser known internal brace procedure) have high initial success rates, but they are not perfect. More importantly, almost every position player I can find had at least an initial drop in performance, particularly in the power department, in their first season post-surgery. Didi struggled offensively upon returning before eventually putting together an All-Star season for the Phillies 16+ months out. Hicks was never the same hitter again, though he did hit for power in 2021 before it evaporated. Bryce Harper famously returned just 160 days after TJS, but he didn't play the field until recently, and his power was significantly diminished until recently.
I think the best-case scenario (which rarely happens) is that Dominguez returns around the All-Star Break, maintains his advanced plate discipline, but I think it's realistic to assume that his plus power won't return until 2025. The potential downside is that TJS permanently knocks his arm down one full grade and he loses valuable developmental time at the plate. If that happens, he becomes a much more ordinary (and flawed) player. There is no positive spin to this situation, and the Yankees (once again) handled it terribly.
Michael asks: I've read your thoughts on Wells as a catcher, but let's imagine the best case scenario: Wells can catch, even part time. What does the catching situation look like next year if that happens?
I think Wells needs to prove he can hit a little more before we assume he's on the MLB roster to begin next season. If that happens, then he needs to be paired with an excellent defender behind the plate who can also mentor him appropriately. Trevino checks that box, and he's the easiest solution for the Yankees.
That being said, I wouldn't mind looking around for a solid defender who also has the potential to hit a bit more than Trevino, and thus be able to use Trevino in a deal in the off-season. I'm not sure the Yankees will go that route, but it's what I would do.
I think Higashioka is a gonner, and he'll look for an opportunity to catch a few times a week with another team, and Rortvedt has shown no reason to hang on to him (there's also the weird relationship he seems to have with Gerrit Cole, who really rides Rortvedt during starts, alternating between exasperation and outright distain for his catcher...maybe the strangest pitcher-catcher combination I've seen in awhile).
So I'd go with Wells/Trevino in the situation you outline, unless a decent defender with a better bat shakes free.
John asks: Quick thoughts on the Chaim Bloom firing?
It's kind of an odd situation. The Red Sox have not been a good franchise in awhile, but I'm not sure it's Bloom's fault. Bloom was hired, and immediately given the directive to trade his best player (one of the 3-5 best players in the game) because ownership suddenly decided austerity was good. Ownership's transparency tanked Bloom's leverage in a trade, and he predictably got far too little for Betts on the trade market, obtaining just one usable big league player in the trade with the Dodgers. So, the Red Sox have (predictably) struggled.
At the same time, Bloom has systematically rebuilt a nearly barren farm system such that it can now produce in the big leagues and on the trade market. The one legitimate knock on Bloom has been that he was so methodical in his approach that he was often left flat-footed in situations that called for urgency, like the Trade Deadline.
Ultimately, I think he deserved another year to right the ship in Boston, but I can't help but think that pairing Bloom with someone with a player development background would pay dividends for a team. Even if the Yankees keep Brian Cashman, I think they should be reaching out to Bloom ASAP.