Photo Credit: Hearst Connecticut Media (Scott Mullin), via Stamford Advocate
One holiday down, one to go…
It’s the day after Christmas and there are still a number of questions yet to be answered for the New York Yankees. Sure, the Yankees acquired left-hander James Paxton from the Seattle Mariners in November and they re-signed LHP J.A. Happ earlier this month but we’re the ‘what have you done for me lately’ crowd.
When will the Yankees sign infielder Manny Machado? As we’ve been told, Machado does not intend to make any decisions until after the first of the year. Does that mean we’ll know something on January 2nd? Probably not. This thing could drag out for days or weeks into January before it plays out. I feel the team needs to brace itself for Plan B in the event Machado takes the money from Philadelphia or Chicago and runs (well, in his case, slowly jogs). Although I am not excited about the idea, the Yankees should consider signing Troy Tulowitski but they’d be foolish to rest their hopes on Tulo as a Didi Gregorius “fill-in”. I really like the diversity of Marwin Gonzalez and he has a championship pedigree thanks to his role in helping the Houston Astros win it all in 2017. I’m not excited about moving Gleyber Torres temporarily off second base to cover for Didi at short, but a second baseman like D.J. LeMahieu or Jed Lowrie could help this team. I think Brian Dozier has seen his better days so that’s a hard pass for me. Neil Walker, I’ve already seen that show. It’s probably not outside the realm of possibility the Yankees decide to stay in-house and give Tyler Wade, Thairo Estrada, and Hanser Alberto opportunities during Spring Training. For a team ready to contend for the World Series, I hope not. There’s too much at stake for the Yankees to come up, pardon the pun, short.
When will the Yankees focus on the bullpen? The obvious answer is now. With Machado’s decision pushed off until next week at the earliest, I really wish the Yankees would fill at least one of the two vacancies this week. With each passing day, there is an increasing likelihood that David Robertson, Adam Ottavino and Zach Britton sign elsewhere. It really sucks listening to St Louis Cardinals fans and players talk about how excited they are to have Andrew Miller. As much as I like Robertson, I don’t really get the sense he is a priority for the Yankees, therefore, I really hope they are actively working with the agents for Ottavino and Britton. I know Britton has the potential to get “closer” money, but we need his talent and skills in the Yankees bullpen. Last year showed that we cannot place 100% faith in Aroldis Chapman and his problematic knee. Dellin Betances did a fine job, but I prefer to keep him in a setup role which means we need a proven backup closer to help Chappy. Ottavino has closed and certainly offers that ability, but I’d rather see Britton return among the two choices. Healthy, he is ready to dominate once again. But I won’t be disappointed if Ottavino is the one.
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Do the Yankees need to bring in another starter? Quite simply, the answer is yes. Perhaps the Yankees are convinced Jonathan Loaisiga is the solution for the role of “sixth man”. But he’s about as much of a question mark as the starting rotation itself. Loaisiga is a talented pitcher but until he can prove the ability to stay healthy, he’s going to carry the injury-risk label. Starting with the back end of the rotation, CC Sabathia is expected to be ready for Spring Training but realistically the Yankees need to prepare for other options in the event CC suffers any setbacks. Encountering heart problems at 38 is never a good sign and we do not know how Sabathia will hold up to the rigors of a 162-game schedule. J.A. Happ was solid for the Yankees down the stretch, but he’s 36. A smart pitcher, yes, but a year closer to retirement. With Masahiro Tanaka, you know we’ll eventually hear “he needs Tommy John surgery”. We’ve been living on borrowed time and it is inevitable he’ll eventually need the surgery to continue. Despite a successful 2018 campaign, James Paxton carries his own injury concerns. Luis Severino is perhaps the pitcher with the fewest question marks but he needs to overcome his second half regression from last season. The Yankees need a bona fide starter to serve as the long man/spot starter. I really hope the 2019 answer is not Luis Cessa or A.J. Cole.
Why is Sonny Gray still on this team? I really thought Gray would be an ex-Yankee before 2019 but we’re running out of time. There has presumably been strong interest in Gray, with as many as eleven teams expressing interest, but GM Brian Cashman has yet to receive an enticing offer. Although I am surprised he hasn’t been traded yet, I fully expect Gray to be gone before pitchers and catchers report to Tampa, FL on February 13th. I think many fans were hopeful the Yankees could package Gray with a few high end prospects to grab Cincinnati’s Scooter Gennett but I think that ship has sailed. With the Reds acquiring Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, and Alex Wood from the Los Angeles Dodgers last week, the team is clearly focused on squeezing a few more wins out of their roster next season. Parting with their talented second baseman would not be consistent with that objective. At this point, I don’t think Gray’s presence on the roster is helping anyone. There seems to be an increasing number of Yankee fans wanting the team to hold onto Gray for the hope he can still be what we once thought he would be. For me, I’m done with Gray as much as I am done with Jacoby Ellsbury.
Which leads me to the next question, why is Jacoby Ellsbury still on this team? Insurance payments. As long as the Yankees have the potential to collect on insurance to defray Ellsbury’s cost, he isn’t going anywhere. If and when he is finally healthy, the Yankees will either make the hard decision to stash Clint Frazier at Triple A or they’ll cut bait with Ellsbury and eat the remainder of his contract. If you count the 2021 buyout of his contract, the Yankees still owe Ellsbury $47.3 million. If the Toronto Blue Jays can afford to absorb $38 million to sever ways with Troy Tulowitski, the Yankees can afford $47 million to make Ellsbury an ex-Yankee. It amazes me how the Los Angeles Dodgers can routinely shed bloated contracts but the Yankees cannot. Well, credit to Cashman for the Chase Headley contract elimination but he needs to find the way to part ways with Ellsbury. If Ellsbury is on the Opening Day Roster (I highly doubt it), I will have no choice but to root for him but, ideally, I hope that day never comes.
I know there are more questions that need to be answered before the Yankees show up for Spring Training in February but these are a few on my mind. I am not sure the tandem of Greg Bird/Luke Voit offers the best hope for first base in the long run but we need more time to see how this plays out. Voit has earned the right to play first base for the Yankees, but Greg Bird should be given the opportunity to play during Spring Training and earn his right to be part of the Opening Day roster. He is running out of time and chances, but I don’t think it is the end of the road for Bird yet nor should it be.
Miguel Andujar is my third baseman until he isn’t.
If there is one starting position on the team that concerns me, it is left field. I love Brett Gardner as much as the next guy, but at this point in his career, he’s better suited to serve as fourth outfielder in my humble opinion. I suppose there’s always a possibility that Giancarlo Stanton plays left more often next season or Clint Frazier works himself into a platoon with Gardy or even takes the job. So much is dependent upon whether or not the Yankees sign Machado. If they do, there will be a chain reaction when Didi Gregorius returns late next summer which will presumably push Machado to third, displacing Andujar who will have to move to first, left or DH. Until this is figured out, it will concern me.
One position that does not cause any alarm for me is catcher. I really expect to see an improved Gary Sanchez in 2019. I honestly feel that he’ll continue to improve defensively with each passing season. I was never in favor of the trade rumors for J.T. Realmuto and stand by El Gary as the present and future of Yankees catching. Austin Romine is a fine backup so I have no desire to see any changes with the current catching duo. I’d certainly have no qualms about Kyle Higashioka taking Romine’s job away if his performance dictates it. That would be a nice problem to have. Until younger guys like Anthony Siegler and Josh Breaux are knocking at the door, Sanchez is this team’s catcher.
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These were just some random thoughts on my mind. There hasn’t been much baseball talk the last few days with the holiday season upon us so I’ve been missing it. I turned on MLB Network Radio this morning and had to listen to one-time Yank C.J. Nitkowski talk about his Christmas gifts for his wife. That’s nice. Let’s get this talk back to Baseball. Is it time for Spring Training yet?
As always, Go Yankees!