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The Off-Season: Catch Or Release and The Center Of Attention

The Off-Season: Catch Or Release and The Center Of Attention

by Tim Kabel

November 5, 2021

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As I draft my little manifestoes about the construction of the 2022 Yankees’ roster, I seem to be getting people stirred up. That’s the whole point. Some readers agree with me but, some don’t. The main thing is that we are having an exchange of ideas and opinions, which I hope is enjoyable for everyone. At least it is for me. I’m simply putting forth my notions and thoughts and hopefully, that will encourage all of you to do the same. This is not life or death; It’s sports. There is not a right or wrong answer. My opinions carry no more weight than anyone else’s. It’s not as if I am channeling Captain Queeg, stating “There are four ways of doing things, the right way, the wrong way, the Yankees’ way, and my way. As long as you do things my way, we will all get along.” No, it’s not that way at all. Let’s have some fun as I continue my speculations on what the Yankees should do to build a competitive team for 2022 and beyond. The offseason is a lot like the experience of meeting someone new; there is hope, optimism and a sense of excitement.

In some ways, it’s the best time of the year.

As you recall, I finished my last article by stating that I envisioned the Yankees’ infield as being composed of Matt Olson at first, D.J LeMahieu at second, Corey Seager at shortstop, and Gio Urshela at third. Eventually, I expect and hope that Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe will eventually arrive on the scene and take spots at second base and shortstop, with Seager shifting to third.

I will now address the positions of catcher and centerfield.

There is a lot of chin wagging about Gary Sanchez’s future with the Yankees. He will be 29 next month. To put things in perspective, the year Thurman Munson turned 29, he won the MVP. Does anyone suspect Sanchez will win the MVP this year? This is his last year of being eligible for arbitration, before he ultimately becomes a free agent. There are those who suggest he should be traded or not tendered a contract. Although 2021 was not a great year for him, he still had 23 home runs and improved his batting average from 2020 by almost 60 points. The fact that he still only hit .204 in 2021 tells you just how awful he was in 2020. There are still many questions regarding his defense, and he has had multiple catching coaches in his brief career. The Yankees needed a revolving door to shuttle them in and out of the clubhouse. Gerrit Cole has essentially shunned him. Corey Kluber, who most likely will not be back on the team, eventually did the same thing. If the Yankees acquire a new member of the starting rotation through free agency or even a trade, that individual may also decide that he doesn’t want to pitch to Sanchez.

There is a valid argument to be made to jettison Sanchez. However, to say the choices at catcher in the free agent market are slim pickings would be putting it mildly. They could simply turn the catching reins over to Kyle Higashioka and find an adequate backup somewhere. The problem with this is that Higashioka’s batting average was actually twenty points lower than Sanchez’s. In addition, Higashioka is not a kid. He’s older than Sanchez. He will turn 32 at the beginning of next season. It has been suggested the Yankees could trade for Wilson Contreras of the Cubs, as he is a defensive upgrade and hit about 30 points higher than Sanchez. It is uncertain what the Cubs would request and accept in a trade. The Yankees have a few well-regarded catching prospects, but none of them are ready to play in the major leagues.

Sanchez improved his game a great deal in the second half of the season in 2021. His batting improved greatly after he abandoned the exaggerated leg kick that he had previously been using. Apparently, he decided he would rather be a baseball player than one of the Rockettes. It is possible that with a new hitting coach and a full year of the leg-kick-free stance, he could make even greater improvements. I think the most prudent course of action would be simply to continue with the status quo of Gary Sanchez and Kyle Higashioka, while waiting for the youngsters, especially Austin Wells, to develop. Besides, it is highly likely that Brett Gardner will not be on the team next year so, someone has to be around to agitate Gerrit Cole. It might as well be Sanchez.

The Yankees need a centerfielder. The position was a major sinkhole in 2021. Aaron Judge proved capable of playing it on a short-term basis. However, it’s not something he should do full-time. Aaron Hicks is still under contract and presumably will be back from his latest injury. However, he collects injuries the way some people collect stamps or coins. It is not prudent to bank on him as the everyday centerfielder at this point. Hicks is not a worthy vessel for hope, Besides, Cashman is looking to get younger, as well as more athletic and flexible. Centerfield is a position that begs for an athletic and explosive player.

I propose the Yankees trade with the Baltimore Orioles for Cedric Mullins, who had a tremendous and unprecedented year in 2021, stealing 30 bases and hitting 30 home runs. He also hit 291 with an OPS of.878. He will be 27 years old through all next season. What would it cost in players? I’m not sure but, considering that 2021 was a breakout of epic proportions for him, and with his only year like that so far, the price might not be exorbitant. If you’re asking why the Orioles would trade Mullins in the first place, since he is young and one of their few bright spots, consider this: the likelihood of the Orioles contending anytime soon in the American League East is infinitesimally small. They would have to jump over the Blue Jays, Rays, Yankees, and Red Sox. That’s not going to happen. They lost 110 games with Mullins last year. However, if the Orioles could turn one good player into potentially two, or possibly three, that might be palatable to them. I would offer Estevan Florial and Clarke Schmidt and work from there. If I had to add in another young pitcher, I would do it. Miguel Andujar could also be intriguing to the Orioles. If he were allowed to play every day in left field or somewhere else, and remained healthy, he could put up big numbers at Camden Yards. By the way, I will even suggest a home run call for John Sterling to use on Mullins. “Hit it to the moon, Mullins.”

Well, I can imagine people wringing their hands and getting worked up over the idea of acquiring Mullins to play centerfield while Aaron Hicks is still on the roster. They may be thinking that the Yankees can’t possibly get another centerfielder while they are paying Hicks $15 million plus a year to be a backup. Well, he was paid that much to do nothing last year. He has missed almost as much time as he hasn’t. I would use spring training to demonstrate that Hicks has fully recovered and then try to trade him for whatever the team could get. If there were no takers, he could be the backup outfielder at every position, effectively banishing Brett Gardner and his pine tar festooned hat from the team. I realize they would be paying Hicks a lot of money but, they would not be paying Mullins much money. They need someone reliable, younger and more athletic than Hicks, who has proven to be as fragile as a glass Christmas ornament.

Now that I assembled what I think would be an extremely competitive team, let me construct the lineup.

Mullins CF

Judge RF

Seager SS

Stanton DH

Olson 1B

LeMahieu 2B

Gallo LF

Sanchez C

Urshela 3B

This would be a balanced and versatile lineup, alternating left-handed and right-handed batters. It would also blend power, speed and high-contact hitters. Eventually, if all goes well, I could envision Peraza assuming the ninth spot in the lineup and playing either shortstop or second if Seager was not ready or willing to move to third base. In either of those scenarios, Urshela would be the odd man out and would either be traded or assume a backup role, as he could play shortstop and third base, if needed.

So, what do you think of my suggestions for the 2022 team and lineup?

While you’re thinking it over, I’m going off to look for that missing quart of strawberries.

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