The Dawn of Yankees Championships…

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Photo Credit: Getty Images

New Decade: Great Hope for Pinstripes…

It’s been an interesting year. When January opened, many of us (okay, namely me) wanted the Yankees to sign either Manny Machado or Bryce Harper. The thought of ‘excite the Fan Base, Hal Steinbrenner’ keep reverberating through my head. On January 14th, the Yankees signed free agent second baseman D.J. LeMahieu, and the Yankees, for all intents and purposes, were out of the Harp-Chado Sweepstakes. The signing of the former Colorado Rockies second baseman was met with general indifference from the Yankees fan base, but it would prove to be a much bigger acquisition than Machado would be for San Diego or Harper for Philly. Both of those teams did so well with their new $300+ million men that they fired their managers. LeMahieu’s manager wasn’t the AL Manager of the Year but he should have been.

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Photo Credit: Tim Heitman, USA TODAY Sports

By now, we know the Yankees won 103 games during the regular season despite a historic number of men (30) who found their way to the Injured List. The ALDS was a success against the homer happy Minnesota Twins, but the season came to an abrupt end in the ALCS playing against a team that subscribes to the theory ‘if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying’. Okay, that’s a Jim Rome quote but it fits the eventual AL Champions and then some. Someone bang on a garage can for the Houston Astros.

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I keep hearing the reason the Yankees failed in the ALCS was because of the hitters. In the playoffs, you face the best of the best. No team is throwing a #5 starter at you to see if they can beat you. With Houston, they had three aces. Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke. There’s a reason the Yankees couldn’t buy a hit when they needed it. Fortunately, the Yankees, after the season was over, recognized the primary goal of this off-season was to get an ace.

James Paxton, after a rough start (it seemed like the first inning was never his friend for the longest time), settled into his role as the best Yankees pitcher. I like Paxton a lot but he is not an ace. While he can be, he is more of a #2. I’ve seen countless people post on Social Media that Luis Severino is an ace. He’s not but can be (maybe even more so than Paxton). Sevy needs to prove it over the course of a long season. Consistency and good health are the two primary ingredients needed before Sevy can call himself an ace. The potential is there but it has yet to be realized.  Masahiro Tanaka can be very good but he’s not an ace.  The regular season is filled with those dang obligatory homers. Once the playoffs start, he pitches with laser-like focus and like Andy Pettitte, is a man you want on the mound in October. Three very good pitchers, but no current ace among them.

The problem was solved on December 18th, ten days ago, when the Yankees officially signed Gerrit Cole to the largest pitching contract in MLB history (9 years for $324 million). If the opt out after 5 years is exercised, the Yankees can add an additional year to the deal, making it worth $360 million.  I’d say that Hal Steinbrenner has excited the Yankees fan base. With an ace, the Yankees suddenly have one of the best starting rotations in baseball after seasons where the rotation was viewed as the primary weakness. Weakening the lying, cheating Houston Astros was an added bonus.

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Photo Credit: AP

The cautionary tale is the Boston Red Sox. A couple of years ago, Sox fans were beating their chests over a starting rotation headlined by Chris Sale, David Price, and Rick Porcello. Porcello is now a Met, Price’s name is regularly among trade rumors as a potential salary dump and Sale can’t stay healthy. If the Yankees have an advantage over the Red Sox, it is a much deeper farm system with talented young pitching prospects to provide a hedge. The Cleveland Indians have proven an ability to grow aces on trees, and of course, the Yankees now have one of those architects on the coaching staff with Matt Blake as the new pitching coach. To Boston’s credit, they have a World Series championship to show for their collection of starters and the Yankees have not.  But if I had to place a bet on which team would win more World Series in the next five years, I can assure you it would not be Boston. If the Yankees can bring the World Series championship total to at least 30 over the next decade, I’d call Cole’s contract a smashing success and those Red Sox championships of 2004, 2007, 2013 and 2018 will be nothing but a forgotten memory.

Even though 2019 did not bring a championship to the Bronx, it has set the stage for a very strong Yankees squad in 2020. A more complete team that is ready to take the next step. Even though 2010-19 is the first decade in a century that did not feature at least one World Series appearance by the Yankees, it figures to change in 2020-29 with restoration of appearances AND victories.

I look forward to 2020 with great optimism and I know it will be a great year for the Yankees and all their fans.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images

In other news, the fan-created trade speculation for Josh Hader continues. Yet, not one reputable baseball writer with genuine sources has indicated the Yankees are close on any trades. Miguel Andujar’s name keeps getting mentioned by fans as expendable. As much as I love Gio Urshela’s glove at third base, I am fearful about a regression in Gio’s offense after last year’s breakout. The Yankees need Andujar. I know his defense is often criticized, but moving D.J. LeMahieu from second to third would force the Yankees to use Tyler Wade or Thairo Estrada at second.  I’d rather keep LeMahieu, an elite defender, at second, and use Andujar at third if Gio fails. I wouldn’t be so quick to trade him. Andujar also has the potential to see some time at first and perhaps in left field with additional work in the Spring. He is trying to get better defensively and his workout videos show a man who is trying to improve his game. Personally, I wouldn’t trade Andujar for a reliever regardless of how good the reliever is. Third base is simply not a position of strength in the farm system and Urshela, as I’ve mentioned, is no sure thing.

The latest name circulating among the Twitter GM’s is Nick Castellanos. Castellanos may be a good hitter but where does he fit on the Yankees?  The Detroit Tigers moved him off third base because of subpar defensive skills. I’d rather have Giancarlo Stanton, Brett Garder, and Mike Tauchman in left field. Castanellos, who became a right fielder, cannot play center and he’s certainly not going to take Aaron Judge’s spot in right. Make him a DH? It wouldn’t allow the Yankees to maximize the potential of the DH slot with the rotation of great hitters already on the team. I see no fit for Castanellos on the Yankees roster. The bat’s nice but it is not enough to make his addition a roster upgrade. In fact, you could argue it would be a detriment because of the lineup inflexibility it would cause. Personally, I like Joc Pederson, a left-handed hitter, and think he’d fit better on the roster if the Yankees could swing a trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers. I’d love to see Joc taking his shots at Yankee Stadium’s short right porch. He may be a platoon bat to face right-handed pitching but he’d mesh well with the other Yankee outfielders or at least better than Castellanos would. Steamer has projected Joc to hit 31 home runs and 76 RBIs in 2020 with .255/.345/.537 batting line and .364 wOBA and 129 wRC+ in approximately 500 plate appearances. Unlike Castanellos, Pederson is a solid defender.

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Credit: FanGraphs.com

It’s always nice to see the calendar page turn to January. The last full month with no Yankees baseball. There could still be a surprise addition or two before pitchers and catchers report to camp on February 12th. It continues to be speculation the Yankees will unload J.A. Happ’s contract (all or part) to reduce luxury tax penalties. I, for one, look forward to seeing how Jordan Montgomery will do in Spring Training even if he’ll be on an innings limitation this year.  With no expectation to be more than the fifth starter, I think Monty could serve the role well.  I think we’ll begin to see the work of Sam Briend, Director of Pitching for the Yankees, come to fruition. With guys like Briend and Matt Blake, the organization’s great young pitching talent will only get better. Soon, we’ll be growing our own Mike Clevingers and Shane Biebers.

Happy New Year, Everybody!  From all of us to all of you, we hope this is your (our) best year yet. Hopefully this time next year we’ll be relishing in the Yankees’ 28th World Series Championship.

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As always, Go Yankees!

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