Until yesterday, I felt fantastic about what I've seen in Spring Training in Yankee camp. Then, as always seems to happen, the whammy came. I have lots of thoughts, positive, negative, and neither here nor there this week, so I am not going to do my typical intro this week. I think it makes sense to jump right in.
As always, thanks for the great questions, and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. Even though I'm not answering any questions this week, I'll answer the questions that came into the SSTN Mailbag this week in next week's Mailbag (in addition to the questions that come next week!), so next week's Mailbag should be a big one. Without any further ado, let's get at it:
Here we go again. I have tried to give the Yankees the benefit of the doubt over the years regarding the manner in which medical reports are evaluated. Numerous times over the last few years, the Yankees have proven unequivocally that they haven't earned my trust when it comes to making medical evaluations. Frankie Montas was the final straw for me. It became immediately clear last year that Montas was not healthy when he was acquired from the Oakland A's. The Yankees traded a significant amount of their upper level starting pitching depth to acquire Montas based on the critical evaluation of the health of his shoulder. Point-blank: they failed. Montas is likely out for most of the year, and I have a very hard time seeing Montas coming back as the version of himself that was ace-like in the first half of 2022, just given the difficult nature of recovery from even simple shoulder surgery.
Yesterday, it was revealed that 3 key cogs on the Yankee pitching staff will all begin the year on the IL: Lou Trivino, Tommy Kahnle, and now Carlos Rodon. If you believe the Yankees' telling of the story, none of these three should be out much longer than late April or early May. I wish I could trust that evaluation, but that trust is broken.
Lou Trivino was very quietly excellent as the second piece in the Montas trade last season. He helped stabilize the middle of the bullpen and threw a significant number of innings in August and September. As a guy with closing experience, Trivino is an important safety blanket in the middle of the bullpen. While a mild elbow ligament sprain doesn't sound intimidating, the injury itself likely means there is some damage to the UCL (the ligament that gets replaced in Tommy John Surgery), even if it is minimal and treatable. The Yankees expect Trivino back by May, but we've heard this song and dance before. Remember in 2019 when Severino would return from his barking elbow by the All-Star break? He finally made a valiant return in September and gutted out important innings in the ALDS and ALCS, all while admitting publicly that he couldn't throw his change-up because it hurt his elbow. The Yankees waited until deeper in the offseason for Sevy to get Tommy John, which further delayed his ability to help the Yankees' pursuit of a championship. Why is this relevant? Because for all of the changes the Yankees have made to their training staff and policies, the same issues with medical evaluations and recovery persist. Trivino is one of the guys that made me comfortable with the Yankee bullpen. Now, I have no faith in when he'll return.
Tommy Kahnle was a risk as a free agent buy. The price was definitely right, and he proved last season that even with a tough recovery from Tommy John Surgery, he still had wicked stuff that fit into the back of a championship caliber bullpen. Biceps tendonitis is a tricky injury that can lead to shoulder problems if it is not treated correctly. I don't have faith in the Yankees' ability to build Kahnle up properly following his shut-down period. I hope I'm wrong, and I really hope he can be back by late April, because the Yankees need him to be part of the back of a 3-headed bullpen with Clay Holmes and Jonathan Loaisiga.
Carlos Rodon has only pitched one semi-completely healthy season: 2022. Despite that, his upside makes a contract like his a sensible risk for a team with the highest revenue of any in baseball. The portrayal we received yesterday was that the elbow muscle that was strained is not connected to Rodon's repaired UCL, but is better to care for now so that Rodon doesn't place added stress on other muscles and ligaments...which makes sense, again, if we trust the Yankees' evaluation. If that's true, and it's not the much scarier flexor mass strain that often leads to Tommy John Surgery, I'll breathe a sigh of relief. Again, the Yankees' rotation, that looked monstrous just a couple of days ago, suddenly looks more human. What if the Yankees botch Rodon's recovery, too?
Harrison Bader felt pain in his side during a swing Wednesday. Oblique pulls are terribly tricky for hitters to recover from. The best I can say right now is...fingers crossed? At least Oswaldo Cabrera looked really good in CF the other day.
By this point, you are probably wondering: where did the SSTN Optimist-In-Chief go? Don't worry, he's still here, but this is one area where the Yankees have largely lost all credibility. The team is the only one that has the full picture of each of these players' medical evaluations, and they have proven that their public pronouncements regarding injuries and recovery timelines simply can't be trusted. It is massively discouraging.
Things aren't all bad, though, I promise; let's talk about some positives now.
The Yankee bullpen obviously needs some reinforcements to begin the year. Luckily, there are some 40-man candidates that can help:
Remember this name: Matt Krook. I mentioned him in a post earlier this offseason evaluating the guys added to the 40-man roster. Despite a fastball that hovers in the high-80s, low-90s, Krook's delivery has a ton of deception and his slider is one of the best sliders I've seen of any Yankee prospect. He is currently stretched out to start, but I think he'll earn the Lucas Luetge role in the bullpen. He produces some of the highest strikeout rates of any pitcher in the Yankee system, despite spending most of his time as a starter. While the Yankees need starter depth, I think Krook will become an important piece in April. What little I've seen from him in Spring has confirmed my optimism.
Jimmy Cordero was an extra arm in Chicago's bullpen who bounced around a bit between 2018-2020. Cordero has just one season of solid performance: 2019. He was hurt in 2021, and the Yankees stashed him in AAA last year. He was always known as a hard thrower, and it appears that velocity has returned. Cordero is sitting in the high-90s (touching 99 MPH in his last Spring outing, according to Statcast) with a power sinker that just explodes out of his hand. Likewise, he throws a low-90s change-up with good drop and fade from an identical arm slot to his sinker. If Cordero can find some command which he has this Spring, he might be a surprising weapon out of the bullpen when the season starts.
Anthony Volpe is living up to the hype. He looks incredibly comfortable at both SS and 2B, his bat looks quicker and better able to cover the entire strike zone than either Oswald Peraza and IKF, and he moves beautifully on the bases. To my eye, he is clearly one of the 26 best players on the Yankees. The Yankees should find a way to get him everyday at-bats from Opening Day forward. I think he's ready developmentally.
Jasson Dominguez has impressed me as well. He takes really good at-bats, though most of his damage has come against hanging breaking balls or low-90s heat. Still, the goal is to capitalize on mistake pitches, and Dominguez has done just that. His body may be atypical for CF, but to me he looks like he can stick there for now. He definitely should start the year in AA, but he looks poised to begin a fast rise through the minors. I expect Dominguez to earn some post-hype acclaim this year.
Josh Donaldson's bat looks even slower right now than in did at the end of last year. I'm not buying a comeback; I think he's toast. Let's see how long the Yankees keep up the charade. Moving on from Donaldson would go a long way towards solving the infield logjam, as would moving on from IKF.
Is there anything Oswaldo Cabrera can't do? I think he'll keep the party up this year, with good defense all over the field and enough pop to make him valuable and make up for sub-par batting averages.
Don't look now, but Aaron Hicks looks really comfortable in the batter's box. His swing looks like it has more juice as well. I really wonder if his wrist just needed a full year of recovery. I know everyone hates him, but I'm rooting for a bounce-back. It wouldn't take a world-beating performance to justify his $10 million salary, and a decent year at the plate would help the Yankees achieve some lineup balance.
I hope Jose Trevino doesn't use up his hit quota before the season starts.
Aaron Judge in LF makes sense from a roster make-up perspective, but it still doesn't look right to my eye.
I hope the WBC guys stay healthy.