Good series? Good series. The Yankees swept two games from the Red Sox this week — do the Red Sox look awful or what? geez — and will open a four-game series against the Royals tonight. Please please please mop the floor with them this weekend. Here are a some assorted thoughts.
1. We’re finally starting to see the Clint Frazier who topped prospect lists and was the fifth overall pick in the 2013 draft. Maybe it’s not fair to say “finally.” He is only 24 and he was essentially a Double-A player when the Yankees acquired him. Injuries got in the way and sometimes there are bumps in the road before a young player establishes himself in the big leagues. Frazier had three hits last night and is hitting .333/.347/.622 (153 wRC+) in an admittedly small 49 plate appearance sample, plus he’s having quality at-bats and showing great overall confidence at the plate. He’s dangerous and he knows it. His 22.0% chase rate is quite a bit better than the 29.1% league average, and while it hasn’t led to walks yet (4.1%), he’s swinging at the right pitches. That’s the most important thing. Frazier isn’t chasing pitcher’s pitches out of the zone and he’s taking good aggressive swings at pitches over the plate. No, he (probably) won’t hit .333 all season and yes, he’ll (probably) slip into an ugly slump at some point, but that’s part of baseball. Right now, Frazier is taking advantage of the opportunity given to him when Giancarlo Stanton landed on the injured list. Once guys start getting healthy (man I hope that’s soon), there’s no way Clint can be dropped into a part-time role or even sent back to Triple-A. He is coming into his own and the Yankees owe it to themselves to keep running him out there, and I fully expect them to do exactly that. (Add in Justus Sheffield being traded for James Paxton, and the Andrew Miller trade had a real big impact in the Red Sox series.)
2. This Luis Severino injury stuff is downright Metsian. Long story short: Brian Cashman said last week the lat strain is a new injury Severino suffered while going through his rehab work for the shoulder inflammation, yet yesterday Severino said he first felt the lat pain and shoulder pain simultaneously back in Spring Training. Cashman told James Wagner that Severino said he had discomfort in his lat when he first complained about his shoulder, though the MRI at the time showed only the shoulder inflammation and no lat strain. It wasn’t until last week that tests showed the lat strain, indicating it is a new injury. Who knows what really happened, but how could anyone believe anything the Yankees say about injuries right now? They miss constantly on return timetables. There are communication issues here, if not between the player and the team, that at least between the team and the fan base. Fairly or unfairly, there are questions about the training staff right now given all the injuries, and this Severino nonsense sure as heck won’t make them look any better. The injuries are bad enough. The botched timetables and conflicting messages make it all worse. It’s hard to believe there’s a situation like this involving the staff ace. There should never be even the slightest hint of miscommunication between the team and a player as important as Severino. Ridiculous.
3. This has to be it for Greg Bird, right? This is now four straight seasons with poor performance and/or significant injury. Bird has been healthy and productive for maybe six weeks total in the last four years (September and October 2017) and what’s the upside, exactly? He is a bat-only first baseman who, fortunately for him, is on the heavy side of the platoon. What are the odds Bird gets healthy and becomes, say, Matt Adams? I don’t think they’re very good at this point, and if the upside is Matt Adams, then I don’t see enough of a reason to keep trying to make this work. There’s no need to dump Bird right now — the Yankees can stash him on the injured list this year and even hang on to him through the offseason because his arbitration raise doen’t figure to be all that large — but eventually the Yankees will run out of 60-day injured list candidates and 40-man roster space will be tight, and Bird should not be safe when that time comes. You can’t say the Yankees haven’t given him opportunities. They have given him plenty of chances to become the first baseman of the future and it just hasn’t happened. No matter how much you like a player — the Yankees love Bird — at some point you have to admit it’s just not working, and move on. After a four major injuries (and three surgeries) and a .194/.287/.388 (80 wRC+) batting line in over 500 plate appearances the last four years, the time to admit it’s not working with Bird has arrived. Forget about him as a potential long-term piece — Bird will be only two years away from free agency after the season, so I’m not sure it would be fair to call him a long-term piece anyway — and move on when 40-man space is required. If he goes somewhere else and lives up to his potential, so be it. The Yankees tried and tried and tried. It’s hard to believe Bird’s leash was this long, really.
4. I don’t have a preference about how the Yankees replace Bird in the lineup. They’re so decimated by injuries right now that there is no good or obvious solution. Play Mike Ford? Fine. Stick with Mike Tauchman and see what he does with regular at-bats? Works for me too. I mean, what are the other options at this point? Force me to pick one and I’d go with Tauchman. He’s a year and a half older than Ford, sure, but he can actually play the field and I’m not convinced Ford is the superior hitter. I know he got off to a great start this year, but Ford hit .253/.327/.433 (114 wRC+) while repeating Triple-A last season. That kinda stinks. Tauchman hit .323/.408/.571 (153 wRC+) while repeating Triple-A last year. Are we sure Ford is a better hitter? I mean really sure? I don’t think it’s so clear that Ford should go into the lineup no questions asked. Given the state of the roster, I think giving Tauchman an extended look is completely justifiable. I don’t expect much either way. If the Yankees want to go with Ford, fine. If they want to go with Tauchman, that’s fine too. With any luck one of these guys will force the issue and run away with a lineup spot. (Or the Yankees could just trade for Justin Smoak.)
5. Gio Gonzalez will make his fourth and likely final start with Triple-A Scranton tomorrow — an ugly first start skewed his numbers (15 IP, 19 H, 10 R, 10 ER, 6 BB, 19 K), though he’s been fine the last two times out — and he can opt out the following day. Brendan Kuty says Gonzalez bought all his teammates sneakers and an arcade game for the clubhouse, plus he’s taken the team out to dinner several times, so that’s cool. He hasn’t been sulking in Scranton. I honestly have no idea what the Yankees will do though. On one hand, the Yankees are in no position to give up pitching depth. You’d think they could find room for him as at least a sixth starter/swingman type. On the other hand, Gonzalez’s contract will pay him $300,000 per start (!). That is bonkers. Add in the luxury tax and this is a $396,000 per start pitcher, and I’m not sure the Yankees could expect him to be even league average in the AL East. The Yankees print money and increasing payroll shouldn’t stand in the way of adding anyone to the roster, but we know it does sometimes. Last year the Yankees traded Erik Kratz prior to his opt-out date and I suppose they could do the same with Gonzalez, but is there even a market for him? He was unsigned into late March and had to take a minor league deal. Any team could’ve had him then. I’m not sure a team is giving up something of value for him now. My guess — and this is a complete guess — is the Yankees and Gonzalez will mutually agree to push the opt-out back to April 30th. That equals another two Triple-A starts, giving the Yankees more time to evaluate him and Gonzalez more time to showcase himself. That said, only one other team has to show interest in Gonzalez for him to use the opt-out. I really have no idea what’ll happen. Nothing would surprise me. Opting out, keeping him, pushing the opt-out back. We’ll find out soon enough.
6. I’m going to let you in on a little blog secret: We recycle content. Like, all the time. Shocking, I know. Chances are any feature you see on the site now was run in a similar form in previous years. For example, I’ve previewed potential non-roster Spring Training invitees each of the last three years (2017, 2018, 2019). Whenever the Yankees struggle like they’ve struggling early this season, I usually run a “easy moves the Yankees can make to improve” post. Here’s one from 2015. (Still can’t believe they didn’t use David Carpenter in high-leverage situations, you guys.) I mention this because, earlier this week, I was thinking about a similar post for the 2019 Yankees, then I realized there are no moves to make! The Yankees have been so decimated by injuries that they’ve already made pretty much all the moves they can make. Replacing Brett Gardner with Frazier would’ve been prime “easy move to improve the Yankees” fodder and that’s not possible now. Injuries have pushed both guys into the lineup. I suppose the Yankees could give Joe Harvey some higher leverage (but not high leverage) innings until Chad Green straightens himself out? Maybe keep running Tauchman out there and see what happens when he gets regular at-bats? Heck, Ford has even been called up to replace Bird. The Yankees are pretty much at their limit with internal moves that could make them a better team. Even if they wanted to make some changes, I’m not sure they can. They’re already scraping the bottom of the barrel internally. I’m not sure how this team could survive another injury given their current situation.
7. Non-Yankees thought: Wow do the Red Sox look terrible. Last year they found ways to win games day after day after day. This year they’re finding ways to lose them. The rotation has been generally terrible and Chris Sale looks nothing like the guy we’ve seen the last few years. Mookie Betts looks all out of sorts. He’s hitting .200/.305/.371 (78 wRC+) and that seems impossible even in a small sample. Last year, any time a team got Betts out, it felt like luck. He’s impossible to pitch to when he’s right. My Red Sox fan friends tell me they mismanaged some injuries, specifically rushing Steve Pearce and Dustin Pedroia back from rehab, and designating Blake Swihart for assignment screams panic move. Boston is 6-13 and already nine games back in the loss column. FanGraphs says their postseason odds slipped from 90.3% on Opening Day to 51.0% after last night’s game. That is an enormous drop in three weeks time. By no means am I counting the Red Sox out in the AL East race. Not a chance. I’m just saying things are going real bad for them right now. That golden touch from last season is long gone.