The Judge-Stanton-Sanchez Era Isn’t Over-It Just Never Happened
By Lincoln Mitchell
December 19, 2020
When the Yankees acquired Giancarlo Stanton in the 2017-2018 offseason, it looked to many like the Yankees were assembling a modern day Murderer’s Row. Stanton was the reigning NL MVP who had hit 59 home runs in 2017. Aaron Judge was coming off of a rookie season in which he hit 52 home runs; and Gary Sanchez had hit 53 home runs in 175 games in 2016 and 2017. Over the course of the three seasons following the trade, the Yankees played 394 games and Sanchez, Judge and Stanton have only appeared together in the starting lineup 87 times, 65 in 2018, only 7 in 2019 and 15 in a Covid shortened 60 game 2020 season. If they had only appeared together 87 times in any one full season, that would have been a disappointing number, but that is the total for two full seasons and a third that was only 60 games.
The reason this once feared trio of sluggers were together in the starting lineup so rarely is due primarily to injuries. Stanton was limited to only 18 games in 2019 and 23 in 2020 while Judge missed significant portions of each of the last three seasons as well. Sanchez, for his part, lost much of 2018 to injury. Because of this, instead of World Series trophies, all the Yankees have to show for the Judge-Stanton-Sanchez era is the question of what might have been.
Now, three years after the Stanton trade, it is clear that Stanton, who is 31 years old and owed $208 million, over course of the next seven seasons is part of an era of Yankees greatness that was ultimately lost to the injured list. Sanchez, with whom I share a birthday, is 28 and is barely holding on to his starting job after a terrible 2020 season. Judge will turn 29 next April and has not been injury free since 2017. None of these players are too old to contribute, but none have demonstrated an ability to hit and stay healthy consistently. A healthy Judge can still be a big impact player, but Stanton is now just another pretty good slugger. He would not make too many lists of the top 25 corner outfielder-DH types in baseball. If Judge ever manages to stay healthy for a full year he would still be one of the top players in the game, but given his recent history, that remains very hypothetical. All three of these players can help the Yankees, but it is also apparent that while Sanchez and Judge may have some excellent years left, the time when these three were, collectively, a unique offensive force and core of a potential championship team has passed with the Yankees having almost nothing to show for it.
The good news for the Yankees is that Judge and Sanchez do not have enormous contracts that will drag the team down for years. This gives the team some flexibility that might help the team navigate its future with a core that has gotten old surprisingly quickly. Among major offensive contributors, only Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier could be considered young. The bullpen showed its age last year and the starting rotation, is other than the 29 year old Cole, so undefined, it is hard to determine whether it is old or young. Obviously, a strong comeback from Severino could give the Yankees’ rotation a younger feel. In general, the Yankees have very few players who are good, can be depended upon to remain healthy and have a defined role. The only players who really fit that category are Voit, Cole and Gio Urshela. Torres is generally healthy and very good, but may be changing positions. LeMahieu is good and usually healthy, but may leave the team. Stanton, Judge and Aaron Hicks, are good players with defined roles who struggle to stay healthy. Sanchez is a giant question mark.
In the bigger picture, it is very unlikely that when the Yankees next win the World Series Judge, Stanton and Sanchez will all play significant roles. The Yankees have been very quiet thus far this post-season in large part because their top priority remains resigning DJ LeMahieu, another player who, despite having been the Yankees best player over the last two years, will very soon be in the decline phase of his career. Nonetheless, it seems clear that their intention is to fill in the supporting parts around an aging core. However, it is no longer clear what that core is.