SSTN Weekly Mailbag: A Potential Solution for First Base, the Emerging Platoon in Left Field, and Cl
By Andy Singer
There’s really no way to sugarcoat it: it has been a really frustrating beginning of the season as a New York Yankee fan. When you look at a team with World Series aspirations, and expect that team to play well, it is disheartening to watch a team lose multiple winnable games in both old and newly confounding ways. I’m not in the camp of fans ready to declare the team fundamentally flawed, as 12 game sample sizes have a way of really skewing reality. Am I disappointed that the Yankees have played some bad baseball to begin the regular season? Sure. However, all hope is not yet lost. I will say that Aaron Boone’s seat should be getting warm if the team continues to underperform into May. Some of the early losses could have been wins with better lineup management from the Yankee manager. I’ll have a post up on SSTN in the very near future examining some of these topics more closely, so keep an eye out for it. For now, I’ll hope the Yanks decide to flip the script this weekend against Tampa Bay.
Let’s get into the mailbag. As always, thanks for all of the questions, and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. I’ll answer 3-5 each week. In this week’s SSTN Mailbag, we’ll talk about a potential solution for first base, the emerging platoon in left field, and discuss a timeline for seeing Clarke Schmidt. Let’s get at it:
Cary asks: Looking down the road a bit, might it make more sense to part with Jay Bruce & add Chris Gittens to the 26 man roster?
The Yankees could then designate Wade to AAA where he could play regularly & bring up Deitrick who probably will be a little better defensively and is more versatile while at the same time providing a little more pop than Wade.
Cary’s question came in prior to the Yankees’ decision to option Wade down to the alternate site, so we can talk more about the scenario described in his question than the specifics of sending Wade down. As those of you who read SSTN regularly are well aware, I have not been a Jay Bruce fan since I heard of his invite to Spring Training, and basically every reason I gave for not wanting to see Bruce on the roster to begin the season has played out in even worse fashion than I could have expected. Bruce has been every bit as brutal as I would have expected at first base (I’d even be willing to go out on a limb and say that some of Torres’ early throwing issues have something to do with the mental gymnastics he’s performing to ensure a perfect throw to a non-first baseman), and he’s been an absolute zero at the plate, without even the one thing that made anyone interested in Bruce, which is power from the left side. Despite these relatively obvious realities, Boone continues to bat Bruce in the top half of the order, and he has the 2nd highest plate appearances on the team this season. Most of this shouldn’t be news to anyone, but it is blatantly clear that Bruce is not the answer at first base while Voit is out.
Chris Gittens is a name that stayed under the radar for a lot of fans prior to his power display in Spring Training this year, but the truth is that he’s been on the fringes of Yankee prospect discussions for years. He’s old for a prospect (27 years old), can only play first base, and based on scouting reports, really doesn’t offer much in the field or on the basepaths. Gittens is interesting for one reason: he is a large man (listed at 6’4”, 250 lbs.) who can really put a hurting on baseballs. According to Conor Foley, a Scranton-Wilkes Barre Rail Rider beat writer covering the Yankees’ alternate site, Gittens has consistently put on prodigious power displays with exit velocities in camp matched only by the boppers employed on the Yankees’ Major League roster. We’re talking about balls hit well beyond the fence at velocities up to 118 MPH. Add in the fact that he hit .281/.393/.500 with 23 HR in just 398 at-bats down at AA in 2019 (in a non-juiced ball environment!), and hit .316/.458/.789 with 3 HR in 24 plate appearances in Spring Training, and it’s easy to see from whence the excitement comes.
Unfortunately, there are a number of problems with bringing Gittens to the Bronx for even a short-term assignment. For one, despite the video game numbers he put up in Spring Training, there’s good reason to believe that those numbers are basically devoid of any value. According to Baseball References measure of the quality of pitching Gittens faced this past March, he compiled numbers against Low A or High A caliber pitching. Secondly, despite the fact that Gittens has produced eye popping power numbers in the minors, his strikeout rates leave a lot to be desired, clocking in with a 29.1% strikeout rate in AA in 2019, a number that would likely sky-rocket against big league pitching. While it’s certainly possible that Gittens has made improvements in that department, we didn’t see evidence of it in Spring Training against inferior pitching, as he struck out in 33% of his plate appearances. Lastly, Gittens is not on the 40-man roster, so there would need to be a corresponding move to squeeze him in. Personally, I’d throw a party if the Yankees would DFA Bruce to make this happen, so the 40-man roster crunch isn’t too critical here.
However, I kind of like the idea of seeing what kind of impact Derek Dietrich could make on this team. He plays all over, has a fiery personality, and bats left-handed, and at least draws walks when he doesn’t hit for power. Calling up both Dietrich and Gittens together could make a lot of sense. This could be easily achieved by DFA’ing Bruce and moving Andujar to the 60-day IL if Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is going to keep him out of action for a bit.
I like Gittens as a prospect, and I’d be interested to see him get a shot in pinstripes, but I’m not sure that he’ll be a savior prior to Voit’s eventual return.
Rob asks: After an entire offseason where we heard that Clint Frazier was going to be the starting LF, we’re seeing a lot of Gardner and not a lot of Frazier. What gives? Were the Yanks serious?
I have to be honest: I don’t get what the Yankees are doing with Frazier. Sure, he hasn’t hit yet, but very few Yankees have really hit yet. Frazier earned the right to some leash this season, and as of yet, Boone and Yankee management haven’t given it to him. On the other hand, Gardy has been solid so far this season (save for one really boneheaded baserunning decision), so he deserves some playing time, and Aaron Boone did say prior to the start of the season that Gardner would get plenty of playing time.
The problem for me is that there are plenty of other ways to get Gardy into the lineup rather than solely limiting Frazier’s playing time. Both Judge and Hicks can use 1 day off per week, and if we include Frazier in that rotation, that gives Gardner 3 games each week without even breaking a sweat. There should be plenty of at-bats to go around in the outfield between Frazier, Gardner, Hicks, and Judge (we’ll set aside the Tauchman discussion for now). I really don’t see how giving Gardy playing time purely at Frazier’s expense does the Yankees or Frazier any good.
I do think the Yankees believed that they were serious when they said that Frazier was the starter in LF, but they’ve clearly adjusted their thinking very early on here. I don’t agree with their decision, and it shows that they still don’t quite trust Frazier despite all of their lip service that says otherwise. I think Frazier deserves, and more importantly, has earned better treatment.
Dan asks: We haven’t heard anything about a timeline for Clarke Schmidt in a long time – should we assume the worst? He was going to be part of the solution this year!
On this front, all hope is not yet lost, though I have concerns. Schmidt’s most recent MRI didn’t show any structural damage; just inflammation for which he was given a cortisone shot and told to rest for a week. We really won’t know a timeline until he tries to start throwing again. Certainly, based on the initial and subsequent diagnoses, the Yankees expected Schmidt to be back on a mound building back up by now. I hope that will happen sometime soon, but no one knows for sure.
I’m with you though, Dan: though I think Schmidt needed more seasoning at AAA, I think he could definitely chuck some important innings for the team in the 2nd half of the year. I’m not sure he’d be up to make a difference now though, so as long as he gets healthy and the Yankees can use him after the All-Star break, I’ll be happy.