2021 is a pivotal year for the New York Yankees and presents a challenge unlike any other. After losing to the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS last season, the Yankees’ World Series drought has reached a daunting 11 years now, increasing the pressure substantially with each season they come up short (ESPN). However, following four straight visits to the postseason from 2017-2020 (which all ended in either the ALCS or ALDS), the magnitude of this pressure has reached new heights and has begun to cast a cloud of desperation over this organization.
At the forefront of this pressure lies the reality that the Yankees pretty much have everything they need to make a World Series appearance (from hitting, to pitching, to defense, to deep pockets, etc.), and despite such, have still found it challenging to overcome their shortcomings in the postseason. Granted, each of these last four seasons had their own share of unique factors that played into the Yankees’ inability to reach the World Series. But over these last two years, in particular, a big part of the Yankees’ struggles as a whole has been injuries.
One can argue that they have managed just fine with their injury setbacks, and that has certainly been the case to an extent. But on the contrary, the Yankees haven’t had the opportunity to compete at full strength with all of their stars on the field over the last two seasons. And standing largely amongst all of the key players that have been on the receiving end of their injury woes, is the one and only, Giancarlo Stanton.
Just to refresh your memory, the Yankees traded for Stanton in the winter of 2017, and in the process, took on the 13-year-behemoth-of-a-contract he brought along with him from the Miami Marlins, which guarantees him a whopping $325 million (Spotrac). What this means, is that Stanton will not only receive $29 million for both 2021 and 2022, but will also receive $32 million in 2023 and 2024 (Spotrac). In a nut shell, that’s a ton of money for someone who a) is slowly starting to fade out of their prime at age 31, and b) only played 18 out of 162 games in 2019 and 23 games out of 60 in 2020 (ESPN). Ultimately, despite having a strong season in 2018, Stanton has grown to be a very expensive injury concern for the Yankees. And after only playing a combined 41 games over the last two seasons, 2021 is a really big test and challenge for Stanton to prove that he can still be that offensive menace everyone saw back in 2017 and 2018.
Overcoming this in his very first year back, is a hefty step for Stanton. That being said, there is some hope and for good reason. For starters, Stanton’s hitting quite well over spring training right now. In just six games, he’s mustered a .294 average, has collected two doubles, a homer, five RBI’s and is posting a solid .333 OBP so far (ESPN). But on top of that, it’s important to keep in mind that Stanton did make his official return to the lineup during the playoffs last season and came back with a bang. In 7 postseason games, he clobbered 6 HR’s, gathered 13 RBI’s and finished their short playoff run with a sharp .308 batting average as well (ESPN). The only question mark still floating around Stanton is how he fares with 140 games under his belt. But considering what he’s been able to accomplish during the short periods of play he’s had, there’s no reason why he can’t rise to the occasion this season.
However, what truly makes 2021 so promising for Stanton, is his health and mindset. To begin with, Stanton has had two years now to really let his body rest and his injuries fully heal, positioning himself for a return that will keep him on the field for the entirety of the season. In addition, the Yankees are likely going to exercise some “load management” with Stanton throughout the year as they have demonstrated already over spring training. And because the Yankees have depth, Stanton’s playing time (even as a DH) will probably get monitored carefully in order to prevent anymore injury setbacks, especially during the first half of the season. As you can imagine, Stanton’s health is of the utmost importance for the Yankees to keep in check this year; another repeat of 2019 or 2020 is the very last thing they need. And with plenty of time to heal accompanied with a careful yet productive load management regiment, Stanton looks ready to take on a full season in 2021.
With that said, what remains to be the biggest reason why Stanton will be able to have a strong bounce back year, really comes down to his mindset and focus. During a YES Network interview on February 26th, manager Aaron Boone expressed a lot of positivity and encouragement regarding Stanton’s return, and particularly, honed in on the mentality he brings to the table:
“With G, I think he’s just in such a good mental space and I just think he has a really good process. I think he really has a keen understanding of what he needs to do and how to focus. Again, for him it’s just going to be making sure we keep him healthy and he’s able to post, and if he does, I’m convinced a huge season is in there.”
At the end of the day, it’s very difficult to foresee whether Stanton will have a healthy season that will grant him the opportunity to play over 140 games. But one of the biggest factors that determines the outcome of a player’s recovery and overall fitness, is their preparation and approach toward aligning their physical and mental health. And as Boone highlighted, Stanton is just locked in mentally and physically, and that’s precisely where he needs to be if he’s aiming to unleash a big, bounce back season.
Ultimately, it’s been a long two years for Stanton, and let’s face it, he’s certainly up against a lot of pressure to prove that he can still produce similar numbers he did 3-4 years ago. But when all is said and done, Stanton wasn’t as in sync with his health over these past two seasons as he currently is right now. And although it might not seem like much of a difference to some, his attitude and focus is at the forefront of why he’s destined to have a big comeback season for the New York Yankees this year.