Sorting Things Out

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

A year and a half or so ago, the Yankees traded Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman, and Carlos Beltran. A year and a half ago, the Yankees were looking at a rebuilding process that, hopefully, wouldn’t be too painful. A year and a half ago, the present reality of the Yankees seemed completely unfeasible. But here we are: after a season of unexpected success from unexpected avenues, the Yankees made their biggest splash in an already splashy year by acquiring Giancarlo Stanton from the Marlins for Starlin Castro and two prospects.

With Stanton aboard and Castro gone, there’s plenty to sort out, but let’s start with the emotions of this. Hell, yeah, huh? A week ago, it seemed like Stanton would land in San Francisco or St. Louis, but as the week went on, that all went away and we got word he’d listed the Yankees, Dodgers, Cubs, and Astros as his preferred destinations. Even then, I thought that there was little or no shot he’d actually end up on the Yankees. To say this was a pleasant and invigorating surprise would certainly be an understatement. Thanks to my son being sick, I was up for most of the morning hours on Saturday and caught a lot of the development of the trade that way. I woke up with him at around 2 AM and didn’t bother trying to go back to sleep–I didn’t want to miss anything.

This felt like a slower version of what happened when the Yankees signed Mark Teixeira out of no where in 2008. Were the Internet the way is now back then, I’m sure the Alex Rodriguez trade would’ve felt the same, too. Regardless of the comparison, the level of shock that this actually happened is sky high. I can’t wait to see what Stanton does in this lineup. Speaking of, things are a bit crowded now, aren’t they?

Even before acquiring Stanton, the Yankees were probably heavy one outfielder. Aaron Judge, Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, Jacoby Ellsbury, and (maybe? Probably?) Clint Frazier were all going to have to figure out how to share time in the field and at DH.  As has been the looming case for a while, it seems that time has run out for one of Ellsbury and Gardner as well; if the Yankees–and, I’m willing to bet, most of us–get their way, Ellsbury will be gone with Gardner, Hicks, Judge, and Stanton as the main outfielders and DHs. Perhaps they let Frazier hang on the bench and fill in depending on matchups, as I’ve suggested in the past. Or, they could send him to AAA again and let him get every day at bats there.

Minus Starlin Castro, the Yankees now have a void at second base. Enter Gleyber Torres? Eventually. Unless he has a Spring Training like Aaron Judge did last year, I don’t see him breaking camp with the team. If he doesn’t, though, the Yankees could sign a stop gap for one year, or run a platoon of Tyler Wade and Ronald Torreyes out there, or run a competition between those two during Spring Training. No matter what they do, the Yankees won’t need to get much production out of second, given what the lineup will look like with Stanton included now.

I’m still in shock this trade happened, frankly, but it’s a damn good shock. And even when the shock wears off, the feeling will be great, grand, wonderful. In a cliche of cliches, the Yankees have certainly given their fans an early holiday gift; given the surprise of this one, I can’t help but wonder if more is in store.

On to the Next

(Getty)
(Getty)

The Yankees have made their choice, naming Aaron Boone their next manager. Mike offered his thoughts here, so take a look. My thoughts? Cool? I guess? I wanted Hensley Meulens for a variety of reasons, but I can’t really complain about the Boone hire–or any, really. Brian Cashman and the rest of the front office have bought themselves a lot of credit over the past two years of baseball and I trust their decision making. Would I have preferred a candidate with experience? Sure. But I wasn’t in that room conducting the interview.

For whatever reason, the Yankees think Boone is the best man for the job, and I’ve got no real choice but to trust in that. I understand some of the immediate concerns fans had on Friday when news came down that Boone got the job. Here’s how I allay those concerns, internally at least. While I don’t recall Boone ever being a proponent of advanced analytics and the like on his ESPN broadcasts, there’s no way the Yankees would have even interviewed–let alone hired–him if they weren’t confident in his ability to understand and explain those things. He’s completely new at this, for sure, but Boone will be backed up by a fully stocked and intelligent baseball operations department. And, this isn’t the 1950’s; Boone won’t be making decisions on his own. The baseball ops team will make sure he’s well-informed and well-ready to make the right call on the field.

As for the on the field things, again, it’s 2017; tactics in baseball are fairly uniform at this point. The overwhelming likelihood is that Boone’s tactics look very similar to Joe Girardi‘s. What matters is the stuff behind the scenes. Clearly, the Yankees feel that Boone can handle that stuff better than Girardi could have going forward after his long tenure. We talk mostly about the on-field stuff because it’s what we see. But the stuff we don’t see–communication, interaction, etc–is where the job is its hardest. Boone wouldn’t have gotten the nod if the organization weren’t confident he could handle that heavy lifting.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

The secondary effect of the manager situation being wrapped up is that the Yankees can move on to other pressing business. First up, they’ve got to sew up Cashman’s contract. He’s been reportedly working on a handshake agreement, but it’d be nice to see the agreement made official. I wonder if this contract will come with a promotion to president of baseball ops with someone else moving into the GM role, but if that hasn’t happened for Cash yet, I don’t think it will this time.

Then there’s the roster, specifically the pitching rotation. And even more specifically, Shoehei Ohtani. While I’m sure the pitch would’ve been good either way, having a manager in place when presenting to Ohtani can’t hurt. It shows the ducks are in a row, at least for the next few years, and that the team has a clear direction in which it’s going. Despite its present success, this team is all about the future. Boone and Cashman are obviously a big part of that, and Ohtani can be, too. It’s impossible to know what he wants in a team until he signs and comes out and says it, but the Yankees seem like a great fit.

The offseason in general has been more of a cold stove than a hot one, mostly thanks to Ohtani and the Giancarlo Stanton trade discussions. For the Yankees, that’s been doubly so thanks to the relatively long search for a manager that’s now over. Now that that’s done, on to the next.

Hall of Fame Season

2018hof-ballot

I love the smell of rehashed arguments in the morning. Welcome, folks, to another season of Hall of Fame voting. It’s that most wonderfully awful time of year again that I swear I’m going to quite every year. But, like Michael Corleone, every time I’m out, they pull me back in (that’s pretty much the only thing I know about The Godfather Part III). I think this happens because when I was first truly active about baseball on the internet, my first “cause” was the candidacy of Bert Blyleven. From there, it moved on to Mike Mussina and I can’t help but be drawn into this stuff year in and year out.

Some general thoughts, given the Joe Morgan letter and what not…First, the idea of purity in any generation or at any tie of baseball is complete and total garbage. Segregation, gambling, juiced balls, amphetamines, steroids, you name it–there has never been any sort of “pure” competition in baseball. To say that steroids are any worse than these things is specious at best. The Steroid Era, or whatever you want to call it, happened and we can’t ignore that, and neither can a museum about baseball. Not including players from that era is irresponsible at best and damaging to the history of the game at worst.

I’ll never have a real Hall of Fame ballot, but if I didn’t do this next part, this post wouldn’t be worth much, would it? First, I’m just gonna list the ten players on the above ballot I feel are most deserving of enshrinement in the Hall of Fame, regardless of circumstance.

Three locks: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Chipper Jones. Bonds and Clemens are two of the best player’s in the game’s history, hands down. Their numbers and accomplishments speak for themselves and don’t need input from me. Chipper was incredible, probably a bit underrated, even. There aren’t a lot of guys, let alone third basemen, who went .300/.400/.500 for their career and he’s one of them.

Two pitchers: Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling. Though I dislike the latter player off the field, it’s hard to deny he was one of the best pitchers in baseball during his career. Mussina, as I’m sure you all know, was a fantastic pitcher as well, and criminally underrated. These two deserve to be in.

Two first timers: Jim Thome and Scott Rolen. Scott Rolen was Adrian Beltre before Adrian Beltre became what we all know him as today. An incredible fielder and a great hitter. Rare would be a situation in which two third basemen were inducted at once, but if anyone deserves to be alongside Chipper Jones, it’s Rolen. They were the two best at their position in the game. Thome as a tater-mashing (612 career) OBP (.402 career) machine whom everyone liked. He’s in.

A lefty and two righties: It took a bit of convincing for me over the years–and I don’t know why–but I’m on board with the Larry Walker thing. He was an absolutely great hitter and it wasn’t just Coors. Even with spending a ton of time there, his career OPS+ is still 141 and his career wRC+ is 140. He was not just a product of his environment. Remember the .300/.400/.500 thing? It applies to Walker, as well as Edgar Martinez, one  of the best right handed hitters of his time and the best ever at his position. Another one of those? Manny Ramirez. Love him, hate him, whatever, he’s another .300/.400/.500 guy and he’s on the shortlist for best righty hitters ever.

No use for the podium this year. (Photo via WLWT Cincinnati)
(Photo via WLWT Cincinnati)

If I could add players to this ballot and supersede the arbitrary ten person limit, I’d also add Vladimir Guerrero, Andruw Jones, and Gary Sheffield. And, despite my hands off stance regarding steroids, I can see the argument in not voting for Manny since he was caught and suspended twice. The one guy I really want to see in but I’m not sure if he should be in is Johan Santana. There were few–if any–pitchers better than him from 2004-2010, but I just can’t fully convince myself that it was a long enough time for him to play, regardless of his absolute dominance. One thing in his favor is that he actually compares very favorably to Sandy Koufax, another pitcher who was all peak and little longevity. In fact, Johan even beats him in ERA+, 136-131. Something I’ll have to hypothetically wrestle with for my hypothetical ballot.

Regardless of what people may think, given their various positions and interests, the Hall of Fame is a great museum to the history of baseball. To tell the history of baseball, all the best players need to be included or else the Hall is lying to its patrons and customers. We can’t ignore an era or the accomplishments of certain players because we don’t like them or don’t like what they did. Doing so is intellectually dishonest and ignores the complexity of both baseball and life.

Assorted Thoughts: MVP, Manager, New York Sports

No one ever takes pictures of the third base coach. (Al Bello/Getty)
No one ever takes pictures of the third base coach. (Al Bello/Getty)

Happy Sunday, RAB. I hope you guys are all doing well. Since I won’t “see” you until then, I wanted to wish you readers–at least you American ones–a Happy Thanksgiving as we approach my favorite holiday. How do you beat a holiday devoted to food? If only there were all day baseball instead of all day football. Alas. In the spirit of said holiday, I did want to give thanks to you all for continuing to read my work and the (incredible) work of everyone here at the site. It’s beyond rewarding to know that you come here for your Yankee news and discourse when there are so many other options available out there. At the same time, it’s both humbling and a great source of pride. Thank you for your continued support. Yankees only.

Let’s start our Sunday musings by discussing the league MVP awards that were handed out last week. Every year, I tell myself I’m going to care less and less about this stuff and it generally holds true. I may make a case for someone or hope someone wins, but this isn’t like ten years ago on the internet when I lived and breathed this type of stuff. Back then, it was a way to flex analytical muscles and show your deeper understanding of the game, especially when you confronted someone more ‘traditional.’ Thankfully, I’ve (mostly) given up that ghost and just sort of take these things as they come. We live in an information age and players who might have lost undeservingly still get lots of recognition and will continue to do so, thanks to sites like Baseball Reference. Case in point? Luis Severino. I was totally fine with him winning third place for the AL Cy Young Award this year. He was clearly a step behind Corey Kluber and Chris Sale, and there is no shame in that, especially after his 2016. But then there was the AL MVP award.

Jose Altuve beat out Aaron Judge and I was, temporarily, Mad Online about that fact. This isn’t to say Altuve isn’t deserving or anything like that. I just think Judge was more deserving. With a few exceptions, Judge beat Altuve soundly in most statistical categories. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter that much because they were pretty close in overall value, even if they got there in very different ways–that’s the cool thing about baseball–but I’m still a bit chapped Judge didn’t win. Altuve had a better narrative–and didn’t have a six week slump–and that’s why he won. Bah humbug. Whoops, wrong holiday season.

Bam Bam. (Getty)
Bam Bam. (Getty)

As for the next Yankee manager, consider me firmly in the camp of Hensley Meulens. He’s relatively young. He’s got coaching experience both acutely–hitting coach–and broadly–bench coach and Netherlands manager during the WBC. As an added bonus, he’s a polyglot who speaks English, Spanish, Japanese, Dutch, and Papiamento. All of those languages are crucial to players on the Yankees and Bam Bam’s skills in speaking them would only serve to make better communication between manager and players. That seems to be what he Yankees are looking for, first and foremost, and it’s the overall trend in baseball. 95% of what a manager does is behind the scenes anyway; there isn’t that much variation in on-field tactics at this point in baseball history, so having a guy who can connect to his players and communicate with them most effectively is what’s most important. From what we can see on the outside, Meulens seems to be the man for the job.

Ignoring the actual records of some of the teams, it seems that we’re in a pretty damn good place with New York sports, huh? The Giants may be a disaster, but they could have their next franchise QB soon. The Jets have played a little better than expected and have some exciting young talent. The Nets are at least interesting and the Knicks, led by the Unicorn Kristaps Porzingis, seem to have a bright future as well. I can’t speak well to hockey, but that leaves us with the Yankees and Mets. The Mets may be a question mark, but things are unquestionably optimistic-looking for the Yankees after this surprise season. We could be seeing a renaissance in New York sports and that would be great for the city and the area.

Again, Happy Thanksgiving, all. I hope you have a great holiday with friends and family. Thanks as always for reading.

Picking a Course

(NY Daily News)
(NY Daily News)

In my personal and professional lives, I try to be open-minded and give things lots of consideration before making a decision. Of course, that comes with a fair amount of vacillation sometimes, and it wouldn’t be inaccurate if you were to call me indecisive at times. At times, this spills over into my “life” as a “writer” and baseball fan; it’ll take me a while to figure out what I’d want the Yankees to do and I end up spilling lots of digital ink in lots of directions before coming to a “decision.” This is completely true of my thoughts on the Yankees’ DH situation for 2018. Or it was. I’ve made up my mind.

My gut has been wrong this offseason once so far–I really didn’t think Shohei Ohtani was going to be posted, but that appears imminent–but my gut tells me the Yankees aren’t going to find a trade partner for Jacoby Ellsbury and they’re going to be left holding the bag, so to speak, with five capable outfielders deserving of Major League time: Ellsbury, Gardner, Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, and Clint Frazier. The obvious fix to that is that you start Frazier in AAA and let him work on things there. But let’s assume he has a Spring Training like Aaron Judge did last year and there’s really no way to justify holding him down there. This also all presupposes that there will be no full-time DH, which I think is a likely scenario, given what happened with Matt Holliday this year.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

That leaves us with five bodies for four spots, including the DH. How would I shake these guys out in a lineup? Four of them would play, with one as the DH, and one as the bench guy, depending on what the matchups or needs of the defense dictated. Now, obviously, right field never gets touched unless there’s a rest day or an injury to Judge. That’s his spot for the year almost no matter what.

Against righties, you’d line up Judge in right, Gardner in left, and one of Hicks or Ellsbury in center. This part gives me hesitation because I’m not sure if the new manager will want to give Ellsbury a chance to reclaim his spot or if what happened in the playoffs will continue. If it’s the former, Ellsbury plays center and one of Hicks or Frazier is the DH. Normally you’d just default to the switch hitting Hicks here, but batting lefty is the weaker position for him. Additionally, you wouldn’t want to bury Frazier; might as well have him playing every day in AAA instead of riding the pine with infrequent at bats.

Frazier. (Mike Stobe/Getty)
Frazier. (Mike Stobe/Getty)

Against lefty pitchers, Hicks plays center, Frazier plays left, and Gardner gets a half day off at DH. He’s getting up there in age and it makes sense to let him rest a bit while the younger guy roams left field. Once again, we relegate Ellsbury to the bench here, unless he manages to improve against lefties while Gardner falls off a bit.

So my five man plan is really a four man shuffle with Ellsbury relegated to the bench. If they manage to trade Taco, this plan is uninterrupted. But, there is another wrinkle, and that’s Ohtani. If he signs with the Yankees, will he be getting DH at bats between starts? If he does, this plan may not work. Setting that aside for the moment, though, I think this is the best way to balance rest and playing time for the outfielders. Of course they’ll have to throw in some DH days for Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird every so often ,but doing this day in, day out probably gives the Yankees the best possible lineup most of the time. Until something big happens, keep it this way.

The Domino Effect

(New York Post)
(The face I made when my wife read me a tweet saying Tanaka would be back/New York Post)

All week I was preparing myself for the inevitable announcement that Masahiro Tanaka would opt out of his contract with the Yankees, leaving them with a big hole in the rotation. I had visions of a rotation without Tanaka and without CC Sabathia to balance the end, leaving the Yankees with only Luis Severino, Sonny Gray, Jordan Montgomery, and….who knows what else? Granted, the Yankees have come into years with rotations featuring way less than a top-3 Cy Young finisher, a solid veteran, and a promising youngster, it still wasn’t, as a former manager ’round here might say, what you want. Then, all of a sudden, he wasn’t leaving. He was coming back. He is coming back. And positivity falls into place.

Worst case scenario now, the Yankees are only looking to fill one rotation spot, and only if they opt not to give CC Sabathia the Andy Pettitte treatment, which he’s definitely earned. The best case scenario stays the same, though, as unlikely as it may be. That includes the Yankees retaining Sabathia and also landing the (potential) prize of the offseason, Shohei Otani. Yes, this would give the Yankees six starters, but as we’ve seen–hell, just look to Queens–pitching depth can disappear in the rotation of a pitch. Stocking up on starters is always a team’s best case scenario.

Even without Otani, a rotation of Severino, Tanaka, Gray, Montgomery, and Sabathia is formidable. Throw in a full season of Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson, a hopefully resurgent Dellin Betances, a healthy Adam Warren and Chad Green, and normal Aroldis Chapman and the Yankees could challenge anyone for the best pitching staff in baseball.

As he does when he pitches, Tanaka has–with this decision–inspired confidence in me for 2018. Sure, that confidence was there given the success of the team this year, but Tanaka helps push that over the edge. Starting pitching has been a weakness of the Yankees heading into the season for…many years and now, that’s not the case, regardless of what happens with CC.

A pitching staff makes, like dominoes do, things fall into place. A strong rotation gives the Yankees balance to their potent lineup. Now, as they did for parts of last year, they have a rotation and a bullpen to buoy them when the lineup goes through slumps and a lineup to push through the wall when the rotation has an off week.

Would or could all of this be true without Tanaka? Sure, they could’ve found someone to replace him and not necessarily missed a beat or a step. But I’m more fond of and confident in Tanaka than I would be or would have been in any sort of replacement for him. Is that a case of blinders or pinstripe-tinted glasses? Maybe, sure. But all I know is I’m damn glad Tanaka is going to be with the Yankees for the next few years, and I hope you are, too. Welcome home, Masa, even if you never left.

Glow and Grow

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Before we begin, a sincere thanks to you, dear readers, for following along during the season and the playoffs. We all appreciate your day in, day out support and couldn’t do any of this without you. Please continue to read, share, and support the–frankly–great work that goes on here. Yankees Only. 

Reflection and feedback are key to our growth in anything we do. Whether we’re students or professionals in whatever field, we don’t move forward unless we take stock of what’s happened, how it happened, why it happened, and what to do next. When the Yankee organization goes through this process, they’ll have plenty to be happy about.

I said it all year. You said it all year. Everyone said it all year. This was not supposed to be ‘the year’ for the Yankees. This was supposed to be a year in which they won 85 games if everything clicked right. Everything clicked way right and they won 91 games and took one of the two best teams in the AL to seven games in the ALCS. Despite the repetition, I don’t think this can be said enough. What the Yankees did this year is nothing short of shocking in the best possible way.

They led the league in homers. They were second in runs. Top three in AVG/OBP/SLG. Their pitchers were third in ERA and fourth in strikeouts.

Aaron Judge? An MVP type season. Gary Sanchez? A 24 year old catcher with 30 homer power and the ability to throw out nearly 40% of base stealers. Luis Severino? A Cy Young caliber season. Chad Green? The next Dellin Betances. Greg Bird? A great playoff run to inspire hope for 2018. Clint Frazier? Forced his arrival early and showed flashes of brilliance in his cup of coffee.

What was the worst thing that happened to this team? Michael Pineda‘s injury? As sad as it was to see Big Mike go down, they didn’t miss him. Matt Holliday‘s second half of doom? It didn’t sink the team. Chris Carter? Total disaster, but they recovered.

2017, in so many ways, was glowing for the Yankees. They do have things to improve, mainly Dellin Betances remembering he’s Dellin damn Betances and fixing whatever ailed him for the last month or so of the season. They have to figure out their third base situation and the outfield logjam.

For this team, there is room to grow. For this team, the future is bright. We got an unexpectedly great taste this year, and hopefully, this is just the appetizer. While baseball will break your heart more often than not, this team looks to be set up for long-term success.

The World Series or bust mentality has certainly gone away in the last few years, and that’s a good thing. Despite that, expectations were the lowest for this team than they had been in years. Not only did the Yankees beat those expectations, they shattered them. If anyone–friend, family, foe–tells you that this year was a disappointment, a failure, laugh at that person. This was probably the most fun season the Yankees have had since 2009 and there should be many more just like around the corner.