The New York Yankees lost again in the postseason on Friday night. There is obviously something wrong that the Yankees haven’t been able to win a World Series in the last eleven years. The question is how to fix it and get back to their winning ways. I don’t pretend to have the answers, but at the same time, I have been an avid life-long Yankee fan for 70 plus years. I have seen teams come and go, and dynasties come and go. I’ve seen some truly great players and many that were not. This look at the Yankees is not a report, but purely an opinion piece. I am a member of the Society for American Baseball Research and a Yankee writer for the last five years.
First of all, we are talking about the New York Yankees, not the Kansas City Royals or any of the other 29 major league teams. I can think of at least 25 teams that would consider this 2020 shortened season for the Yankees a great success. But, that is not the case we talked about the Yankees, where the season is a failure if they don’t go into the postseason and win a World Championship.
The 2020 Yankees season was a good one, considering all of the obstacles and injuries. For the second year in a row, the Yankees had an unprecedented number of injuries. Key pitchers and some in the lineup were either missing for the whole season or much of it. Last year the Yankees completely shook up their strength and conditioning department. One would not expect an immediate positive result, but those changes should reap the rewards in the coming years after a season. But going forward, there is no way to predict what injuries the Yankees might endure in the coming season.
Last December, after another losing season, the New York Yankees made a big move, their first in a few years. The front office was tired of losing. They went to California and signed the best pitcher available in the offseason, and one of the best in all of baseball; Gerrit Cole. That was the only change they made, believing it would be the difference in winning a Championship, and they spent $324 million to sign him.
As the Yankees approached spring training, everything looked rosy, as the team was healthy, and they had a new pitching ace that would take care of the 2019 shortcomings. Well, it didn’t take long for that rose to start to wither. They knew going in that they would be without their 2019 winningest pitcher, Domingo German, who was 18-4 last season. He would be out the much of the season, serving the remainder of his domestic violence suspension.
The Yankees were not aware at the time that James Paxton had had back surgery and would also miss the start of the season. They knew that they had co-ace Luis Severino coming back from missing much of the 2019 season. Fast forward to him throwing his first few pitches of spring training, and his elbow was injured, which ended up requiring him to have Tommy John surgery, and he too would miss the season. Considering the aging Masahiro Tanaka and missing two key pitchers, I, at that point, said to myself, well, that negates the plus of having Gerrit Cole, and we are back in the same situation we were last year.
Another big blow came when we learned Yankee slugger and star Aaron Judge had shoulder problems, which turned out to be a collapsed lung and a fractured rib. He two would miss the beginning of the season. The injuries piled up that I am not going to go into, but the Yankees’ rosy season looked in jeopardy. Then it hit, COVID-19. As the virus began to sweep the nation, MLB shut down all baseball operations and announced a delay at the baseball season.
The original two-month delay turned out to be a delay of more than four months. There were contentious negotiations between MLB and the players regarding how to start the season safely and who would get paid for what. Those negotiations lagged, and Commissioner Rob Manfred ended up putting health protocols in place and implementing a 60 game season. To a degree, this was a godsend for the Yankees as it would give them time to get everyone healthy in time for the season start.
After a surprisingly good start to the season, they went 9-2. But then the injuries started popping up. The Yankees endured a 5-15 stretch and the season looked like they would have to fight to win the division. They didn’t, allowing the Tampa Bay Rays to win the East Division. Gerrit Cole did his job, but much of the rest of the rotation didn’t. The Yankees endured long stretches where the powerful lineup was anything but effective. Roughly half of the season, they went without Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankees ended up the regular shortened season going 33-27.
Because of the expanded postseason format set up by MLB, the New York Yankees got to the postseason. They faced the Cleveland Indians, burying them in just two games while scoring 22 runs in the two games. The Yankees advanced to the ALDS against their nemesis Tampa Bay Rays, winning the first game with 9 runs and Gerrit Cole on the mound. That would be the last time they would score as much as two runs in the remaining four games. The lead in the series bounced back and forth, calling for a game five. In the eighth inning of that game, Yankee closer Aroldis Chapman would give up the winning run to Mike Brosseau. This is the second season in a row that Chapman has ended the season giving up the winning run.
So, what’s wrong with this team that they can’t win in the win in the postseason and advance to a World Series appearance? The answer is multi-folded. They don’t have dependable pitching, they don’t have consistent, timely hitting, they leave too many men on base, and they have some defensive holes.
Let’s address the defensive problems first, as they are the least significant. At shortstop, we have Gleyber Torres, after the Yankees did not re-sign Didi Gregorius in the offseason. They bet on Torres fulfilling the position, it did not turn out well. Torres got off to a slow hitting start, but his main problem was holding down hitters at short. Torres committed 9 errors, the second-most in all of baseball. Torres also had two errors in the postseason.
One of the most significant problems the New York Yankees had in the 2020 season was their catcher, Gary Sanchez; after a year of improved performance at the backstop, Sanchez returned to his old ways, having allowed six passed balls, that’s near 19 in a regular season, leading all of baseball for a catcher. Add to that, he was, for the most part, just taking up space in the lineup. He ended the season with a .147 batting average. He had only 23 hits on the entire season, 10 of them home runs.
The Yankees have had undying faith in Sanchez as their catcher of the future. The Yankees continue to wait for him to fulfill that promise. The only problem is that he is going backward. His defense is worse than last season, and he has had a batting average of less than .232 during the last three seasons, two of them under .200. For the first time since he has been a Yankee, the Yankee front office, is showing cracks in that support. As the end of the season approached, manager Aaron Boone benched him twice, and in the postseason, he caught in only one of the seven games.
Turning to pitching, Gerrit Cole was the only dependable starting pitcher in the season. Masahiro Tanaka, second in the rotation, went 3-3 with an ERA of 3.56 on the season. The Yankees lost both of his postseason starts. He had a postseason ERA of 12.58. James Paxton went 1-1 on the season but was injured and missed the last half of the season, and he all of the postseason. J.A. Happ was a mixed bag, pitching poorly in the first half but becoming the best pitcher in the second half. Happ was 2-2 with an ERA of 3.47 ERA. Jordan Montgomery was inconsistent all season, going 2-3 with an elevated ERA. He pitched his one postseason game well, but the Yankees lost the game nevertheless.
Going into the last half of the season, the New York Yankees realizing they needed pitching help, allowed the major league debut of Deivi Garcia. Garcia basically didn’t disappoint. He got in six starts on the season going 3-2 with an ERA of 4.98. In the season the Yankees also introduced Michael King and Clarke Schmidt who may be a part of the coming seasons.
The Yankees made a big mistake in the postseason. They tried to outsmart the Tampa Bay Rays by playing their game when they should have played their own game. Game 2 of the ALDS will be looked back upon as the game that turned the tide in favor of the Rays. For some unknown reason, the Yankees decided to start game two with an opener, instead of Masahario Tanaka. Mistake number two came when the only let Deivi Garcia pitch one inning. Mistake number three was when they brought in J. Happ to replace him, burning two starting pitchers in one game. The gamble didn’t pay off; the Yankees lost the game and their momentum.
The Yankees hitting in the Wild Card round was just that, wild. When it came to the ALDS the bats for the most part went silent again. I have no explanation as to why throughout the season, all of the Yankees bats went silent at the same time, with the exception of Luke Voit. I have to assume it was only an annoying coincidence.
How the New York Yankees can fix things!
The Yankees will presumably be getting Luis Severino and Domingo German back for the 2021 season. However, after not pitching for a year, the Yankees have no way of knowing how they will perform. The Yankees need another premium arm. Tevor Bauer is a free agent, he would be a good fit for the Yankees. That would give the Yankees a starting rotation that would look like this; Gerrit Cole Trevor Bauer, Luis Severino, Domingo German, and Deivi Garcia. No one knows right now what will happen with Paxton, Happ or Tanaka who are all free agents. My guess is that they will take Tanaka back at a discount and let Paxton and Happ go. Another option for the Yankees is Carlos Carrassco of the Indians.
On the defense and hitting side of the issue, the Yankees need to replace Gleyber Torres at short. Enter Francisco Lindor who is a free agent. Lindor would be an upgrade at short and in the lineup. That would allow Torres who the Yankees will not get rid of, to return to his natural position at second base. This would allow LeMahieu to become a utility man that can adequately fill in at all infield positions while keeping his hot timely bat in the lineup.
Looking at the other positions, Voit and Ford, although not the best, they can handle first base. Voit finished his season as the best home run hitter in all of baseball. The Young Gleyber Torres can continue to blossom at second base and in the lineup. At third base is the real deal Gio Urshela, who is a Gold Glove type defender and timely hitter. The outfield is pretty well set with Judge, Hicks, Frazier, and the MLB’s best defending outfielder, Mike Tauchman. Tauchman committed no errors.
Outside of the Torres situation, the Yankees still have three situations they must clear up in the postseason. One is easy; the Yankees must re-sign DJ LeManhieu, the 2020 batting average winner. My suggestion is a 4 year $65 million contract, although it may take more dollars, the Yankees must get it done. The other two questions are less clear. Brett Gardner is in the last season of his contract although he has an option for 2021. The Yankees can dump him for $2.2 million. Although Gardner didn’t hit as well this year he did contribute on the field and the bases. Gardner is also a team leader in the clubhouse.
The question about Gary Sanchez is more complicated. Sanchez can be very good, he hit 34 home runs in 2019. His defense is still questionable and his ability to get on base has been greatly reduced. His trade value is near zero presenting the options to leave things as they are, move Higashioka to the everyday catcher, and domote him to backup. Another option is to go after one of the best catchers in the game, J.T. Realmuto who is a free agent and would be a big-time upgrade.
The New York Yankees have the money to make all these upgrades, they spend less on player salaries compared to revenue than any other baseball team. In general the Yankees rely on the home run to win games, when they don’t hit them they lose. Lindor would help that, he hit 61 hits compared to Torre’s 33 hits. Realmuto added to the lineup would provide more timly hitting as well. The result would be a team that plays small ball and long ball for a better mix, and more consistant scoring.
The New York Yankees have a great team but need to make some minor tweaks to win a World Series, and time is running out. The Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman made no moves to improve the team by the trade deadline in the last two years. The cheap “Baby Bombers” aren’t so baby anymore, they are aging and will all become free agents in the next two years, with the exception of Gleyber Torres, who is under team control until 2024. If the Yankees want to win with the core of players they have, they only have this and the next year to make that a reality. Only the front office’s determination to win a 28th Championship and more in the coming Cole years will make that happen.
EmpireSportsMedia.com’s Columnist William Parlee is s member of the Society for American Baseball Research. Follow me on Twitter @parleewilliam