Weekly Mailbag: Yankee Coaching, A Left-Handed Bat, A Surprise Relief Option, and Brett Gardner!
By Andy Singer
The season is officially over, and the off-season is ready to heat up. This was a wild World Series, but selfishly my first reaction is as follows: at least now the Yankees won’t be known for making the worst pitching decision of the 2020 playoffs. While I understood some of the Yankees’ intentions with piggybacking Garcia with another starter, I didn’t agree with the manner in which the strategy was executed, and the Yankees deserved criticism for the move. Pulling Blake Snell with 1 out in the 6th inning is the epitome of turning general statistical truisms into gospel. Yes, pitchers generally fare worse when facing lineups a 3rd time. Yes, Snell rarely has pitched past the 6th inning in the last two seasons. But you have to use your eyes at least a little! Snell was dominant, had a low pitch count, and deserved a shot at at least challenging the top of the Dodgers’ order a 3rd time. Giving Snell a quick hook at the first true sign of trouble would have been a defensible decision, but pulling Snell after giving up just his second hit was not a good decision at all. As I say, at least the Yankees won’t be known for the worst pitching decision of the 2020 playoffs.
In today’s mailbag, we have questions about Yankee coaching, a left-handed bat on waivers, a surprise relief option, and Brett Gardner! Let’s get at it:
George asks: The fanbase is growing restless with the coaching staff, yet I’ve noticed that a couple of Yankee coaches have interviewed for open managerial jobs across the league. Are the concerns of Yankee fans overblown, or are these courtesy interviews?
This is a great question, and one that I think is really important for Yankee fans unhappy with the coaching staff to ask themselves. For reference, the two Yankee coaches that we know have received managerial interviews this offseason are Hitting Coach, Marcus Thames, and Bench Coach, Carlos Mendoza. Frankly, I haven’t heard about coaches from teams like the Orioles or the Royals getting courtesy interviews from other teams, so I don’t think that it would be fair to categorize any managerial interview Yankee coaches have taken as a “courtesy interview.” I think it signals that the Yankees currently employ a talented staff at the Major League level, no matter how upset Yankee fans are at the recent results on the field.
Carlos Mendoza has received numerous interviews this offseason for open managerial positions. Mendoza is a baseball lifer. Following a 13-year professional playing career, Mendoza jumped to coaching with the Yankees in 2009. He quickly rose to managing in 2011 and 2012 for the GCL Yankees and the Charleston River Dogs (Low-A), respectively, before becoming a roving infield instructor at all of the Yankee team sites until after the 2017 season, when he became the Yankee infield coach. This year, Mendoza was elevated to Bench Coach following Josh Bard’s departure last offseason. Additionally, Mendoza is bilingual, allowing him to communicate in the two primary languages used in MLB clubhouses. Our Editor-In-Chief, Dr. Paul Semendinger, has been very vocal about ensuring that the Yankees have an experienced manager as Bench Coach next to Aaron Boone (in fact, Paul wrote about that very topic again today). I would argue that the Yankees already have that in Mendoza. Mendoza may be young at just 40 years old, but he has significant managing experience, fits into a clubhouse culturally, and is well-respected for his knowledge of the game and its fundamentals.
Marcus Thames enjoyed a 15-year professional career, and rose through the Yankee minor league ranks quickly as a well-respected hitting coach. After retiring, Thames became a Yankee minor league hitting coach in 2013, rising to Assistant Hitting Coach for the Yankees following the 2015 season. One year later, Thames rose to the role of Hitting Coach. Thames has been credited for helping numerous current Yankees make leaps in their development during their minor league careers, though he was most famously credited for Rob Refsnyder’s breakout minor league campaign in 2014. In a 2018 interview, Thames noted that he doesn’t have a specific philosophy that he asks hitters to follow, but he tailors his coaching to each individual hitter. Thames has a reasonable approach and a good reputation, and teams around the league have taken notice.
All of this is to say that I’m not sure how much the coaching staff is really to blame for the underperformance of the roster in recent years. Sure, we all have some problems with Boone’s lineup and pitching decisions, and the lack of fundamentals this year was a real concern, but I don’t think the guys under Boone are to blame. Carlos Mendoza, in particular, seems like a keeper.
Kevin asks: The Cardinals released Kolten Wong, a LHB. Does he make sense as a Yankee target?
Wow, this seems like a really short-sighted, purely cost-cutting move by the Cards to give Wong a $1 million buyout without other good options available (unless, of course, they plan to make a run at someone like LeMaheiu). On the surface, this looks like it could be a good move for the Yankees: a left-handed bat who is a defensive wizard at 2B, but also has experience playing all 3 outfield positions. Personally, I love watching Wong play the game, and I saw him play in the Cape Cod league prior to his draft year.
However, then we get past the surface, and I’m not sure this is a perfect fit. Wong doesn’t hit enough to start for the Yankees. Since 2017, Wong has posted a 103 OPS+, which seems solid for a defensive wizard, but those numbers were highly dependent on Wong making consistent contact, as he doesn’t hit for much pop, nor does he walk a ton. This year, Wong hit for a very empty .265 batting average.
I don’t think Wong makes sense as a starter, but I’m not even sure Wong makes sense as a Tyler Wade upgrade. I really don’t think Wong has the arm to play SS or 3B on anything other than an emergency basis (and he’s never done it at the big league level), and he hasn’t played the outfield in a couple of seasons. I love his defense at 2B, and I think there’s more in the bat than we saw in 2020, but I just don’t think Wong is a good fit for the Yankees.
Brad asks: The Indians just put Brad Hand on outright Waivers. His salary for 2021 is 10 million dollars per year – should the Yankees make that claim?
Yes! Of course the Yankees should place a waiver claim on Brad Hand. We knew that the Indians were going to cut costs this offseason, but this is shocking even for them. One would think that the would have picked up the option, then traded Hand just to extract some value, but the Indians austerity measures seem to matter above all else. Truthfully, acquiring Hand on waivers was not something that ever seemed like a realistic possibility. Just a couple of months ago, all of us were crafting Lindor trades with Hand listed as a possible throw-in, depending on the size of the deal!
Brad Hand is an elite reliever who can immediately give the Yankees a nearly elite bullpen. Hand consistently strikes out more than 11 batters per 9 innings, is stingy with allowing hits, and even began to limit walks this year. Oh, and he’s left-handed. Hand is exactly the type of reliever that every team in baseball wants.
Unfortunately, I have a hunch that someone in front of the Yankees on the Waiver list will make a claim, but the Yankees should be prepared to jump at Hand if he’s available.
Chris asks: Have we seen the last of Brett Gardner?
I’m not sure, but I have a hunch that it could happen. Gardner came on at the end of the year, but he’s aging, had a poor regular season in 2020, and the Yankees should finally give Frazier an opportunity to start in LF. Add in the fact that there are a few left handed outfielders available in Free Agency, and there are a host of reasons not to re-sign Gardner.
Personally though, I have no issue re-signing Gardner as a 4th outfielder who can play LF or CF. We can’t measure what leadership in the clubhouse means to a team, and I think this is a team that benefits from an “elder statesman.” If 2020 truly was Gardy’s last go-’round with the Yanks, I’ll really miss him. He was an underrated player for so many years, and I loved watching him play. Gardy plays with a personality that resonates with me, even as his play on the field declined this year. I’m holding out hope for one last trip with the Yankees, but I put the odds at 30/70.
That’s all for this week! Thanks as always for the great questions and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. We’ll see you next week!