SSTN Not The Weekly Mailbag
We’ll be back with a regularly scheduled SSTN Mailbag next week – keep the awesome questions coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. Don’t be shy, I don’t bite…much…anymore. Instead of answering a variety of questions this week, a lot of stuff is going on in the Yankee Universe that I think is worth a conversation. In truth, some of these topics are on the border of being deep enough for fuller posts, but I think this is as good a spot as any to start the discussion. Without any further ado, let’s get into it:
The Yankees Are The Best Team In Baseball
It’s not particularly close either. As of Friday morning, the Yankees have a .711 winning percentage, with only the Dodgers within shouting distance with a .682 winning percentage. Now, it’s true that the Yankees have had a fairly easy schedule to begin the year, but the Yankees have struggled in recent seasons to take complete advantage of weaker competition, frequently posting lower winning percentages against teams below .500 than their rivals in the AL East. That hasn’t been the case thus far. The Yankees have also performed well against their in-division foes, going 9-4 against the lowly Orioles, 6-3 against the Jays (who were seemingly anointed the “Beast of the East” without playing any games), 2-1 against the Red Sox, and they won last night’s first matchup with the Rays in convincing fashion. Given the reality of the unbalanced schedule, if the Yankees continue these trends against teams in their division, they’ll be looking at an AL East crown in 2022.
Reasons For Concern
As good as the Yankees have been, there are plenty of reasons for concern. The injury bug that had largely stayed away since the beginning of the 2021 season has returned with serious vengeance. Both Chad Green and Luis Gil are gone for the remainder of this season and likely most of next as well; Giancarlo Stanton hit the IL with a calf strain (something that took him out for large stretches of time in 2019 and 2020); Jonathan Loaisiga admitted to shoulder pain, which could be a reason for his early season struggles, and hit the IL; Aroldis Chapman is on the IL with Achilles tendonitis; Tim Locastro is on the IL with a lat strain; and both Josh Donaldson and Kyle Higashioka have spent time on the IL with COVID. The Yankees have compiled impressive depth, particularly compared to other teams, but this is a lot to deal with all at once.
The Yankees’ pitching depth will certainly be tested, with 3 bullpen cogs on the IL for the foreseeable future, and one depth piece with impact stuff out for the remainder of the year. Even with the Yankees’ impressive depth, this is a lot to deal with as the Yankees hit a tough stretch against good teams and no days off.
Even at full strength, we know the Yankees have weaknesses, particularly on offense. Catcher and centerfield have been black holes, and I highly doubt that the collection of Higashioka, Trevino, and Hicks will show enough value to be worthwhile everyday players; Joey Gallo, for all of the obvious power and athleticism, can’t seem to get going in pinstripes as his play has suffered on both sides of the ball; and Isiah Kiner-Falefa, as much as I like him, is really just a better version of Ronald Torreyes at his best, who will be prone to streakiness at the plate with his all contact and nothing else approach at the plate. For a good team, particularly one that has taken some shots to its pitching staff, that is a scary thing.
Miggy Gets His Chance
I am an unabashed Miguel Andujar fan; always have been, always will be. I have always believed that if healthy and with enough at-bats, he’d hit. He’s going to get his chance to prove it with Stanton out of the lineup. Do I think that Miggy has a long-term future with the Yankees? Probably not. He’s right-handed, only can vaguely play left field and third base, and is a free swinger in a lineup that really needs patience around the big boppers. But a good showing could finally boost his value enough to make him an interesting trade piece for someone at the trade deadline this year. That would be a great outcome for both Miggy and the Yankees. Miggy appears healthy for the first time in a long time, so maybe he can begin to capitalize on his promise from long ago.
The First Wave Of Reinforcements
The first wave of reinforcements are here! The Yankees have brough Matt Carpenter back from the dead to see if he has anything left in the tank at the Major League Level and we’ll finally get to see Manny Banuelos pitch in a Yankee uniform. I’ll deal with both separately.
The Yankees’ broadcast booth made a huge deal about the fact that the Yankees gave Carpenter the number 24, which I think is overblown a bit. Carpenter is a veteran with multiple All-Star selections and a host of good years. That’s not a guy that gets a number like 78, regardless of how long he’s around. While that’s out of the way, I’m not sure that we should assume that Carpenter will be out the door anytime soon, and I think that Marwin Gonzalez should be looking over his shoulder. Gonzalez has no pop and doesn’t particularly field well at any position despite playing all over the diamond. Carpenter isn’t a great defender anymore either, but there’s at least some hope that he’s got some left-handed thump left. He’s hit a ton down in AAA at Round Rock in 2022, posting a .275/.379/.613 line with 5 homers and strong walk rates in just under 100 plate appearances. For the first time in a couple of years, Carpenter is healthy and has played for winners in the past. It would not shock me if Carpenter is auditioning for the Gonzalez role, and I think he’s better suited to the Yankees needs at this juncture.
I’m absolutely thrilled for Banuelos. He had a strong Spring Training, and I said at that time that his stuff was good enough to compete at the big league level and acquit himself well. He’s been excellent down at AAA, posting a sub-3.00 ERA with stronger strikeout and walk numbers than he’s ever posted there, so he earned the call-up. The Yankees need relief pitchers who can be league average or better while soaking up some innings with guys on the mend, and Banuelos is well suited to do just that. I can’t wait to see him in game action.
Start Thinking About Trades
The Yankees have been great, but it is an imperfect roster that should get some reinforcements prior to the playoff push. The needs are clear. The Cubs are an obvious trade partner, and while most have focused on Willson Contreras at catcher, I think there’s another even better fit for the Yankees: Ian Happ.
Happ is having a resurgent season, plays every outfield spot, can play the infield in a pinch, and switch hits. Happ is a significantly better version of Aaron Hicks and is under team control for 2 years including this one. Happ is an obvious target, and a guy who fits exactly what the Yankees need. He’s also the rare CF-capable player who might be available at the trade deadline.
I also think the Yankees should be on the lookout for another catcher, but it’s tough to integrate one at mid-season with a pitching staff that’s rolling. Contreras might not be that guy, as he’s not known for his defensive prowess.