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It hasn’t even been three weeks of regular-season play, but …
• Have you noticed … the lack of joy around the Yankees? Of course, the lack of wins, hits and runs hardly are going to make the group want to break out in a game of Twister. But even in the good moments, there is a muted quality.
The days of Aaron Judge hoisting up Ronald Torreyes or “Savages in the batter’s box” feel like a different generation. The word that keeps resonating with me is “stale,” like there was a stay fresh date that has expired on this core. Maybe a binge of homers will change it or a benches-clearing incident like early in 2018 at Fenway when that seemed to stir a sleepwalking team toward 100 wins.
In 2004, then-Red Sox GM Theo Epstein sensed such a staleness with a close-but-no-cigar group and became convinced that a lack of defense and athleticism was going to keep the team from winning. He reacted by trading the face of the franchise, Nomar Garciaparra, at the July deadline for multiple better defensive pieces. And Boston went on to win a championship.
Ultimately, will Brian Cashman have to make the same decision about this team and come July shake the lethargy and address defense and athleticism by, say, trading an Aaron Judge or Gleyber Torres?
• Have you noticed … that Garrett Whitlock has, in four relief appearances, thrown the equivalent of a complete-game shutout: nine innings, three hits, no runs, no walks, 11 strikeouts? He has done this for the Red Sox. After they took him in the Rule 5 draft last December. From the Yankees.
Whitlock, after four pro seasons, was eligible to be selected in the Rule 5 draft if the Yankees did not put him on their 40-man roster after last season. Decisions whether to do so are a combination of art and science as a team tries to figure out not only who can be selected, but if that player has the skills to stick on a major league roster all year because, if not, he must be offered back to the original club. And with rosters going from 25 to 26 this year, it is a little easier to keep a Rule 5 selection.
The Yanks’ minor league strength was in power righty arms (they also lost Trevor Stephan to the Indians) and couldn’t protect them all. But will they regret protecting, say, Albert Abreu or Brooks Kriske over Whitlock? It is early, but in a text exchange Red Sox manager Alex Cora said of Whitlock that he “attacks the strike zone with plus stuff since Day 1 in Fort Myers and his changeup is becoming a weapon.” Cora praised Whitlock as an “awesome person who works hard at his craft and asks questions and listens to veterans,” citing Matt Andriese, Nathan Eovaldi and Adam Ottavino.
The plan is for Whitlock to ultimately become a starter, though probably not this year.
• Have you noticed … that the Yankees called up Mike Ford again, this time to replace Jay Bruce? When I first covered the Yankees as a beat writer in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was an illogic to a lot of the moves that were made, often fueled by George Steinbrenner’s impetuousness and the split command between New York and Tampa.
With those clubs, it wasn’t that A-plus-B wouldn’t equal C; oftentimes it felt like it didn’t even equal another letter; A-plus-B could equal a ham sandwich. The club could need a shortstop and have the assets to land a shortstop and they would add another DH type. Boy, did they love DH types. One Ken Phelps after another Mel Hall followed by a Steve Balboni.
By the way, with Ford, how many DH types do these 2021 Yankees have? Him, Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez, Rougned Odor …
On one logical hand, you can say the Yanks lost a lefty-hitting first baseman with Bruce’s retirement, Ford gives them another lefty first baseman and will just bide time until the return of Luke Voit — another DH, for what it is worth. Got it. But it also gives them another lumbering non-defender.
Here is a question: what would help this roster win more games: Ford or Kyle Holder? All signs are Holder, the Yanks’ 2015 first-round pick, will never be able to hit like a major leaguer. But he can field well at three infield positions. Would going in late defensively for Odor or Torres be more useful than four Ford at-bats on occasion? It would force the Yanks to use Bruce’s 40-man roster spot to get Holder on and the Yanks ultimately will need those spots for Zack Britton and Luis Severino to return from the 60-day IL. So the choice is not a layup.
Holder — like Whitlock and Stephan — also was taken in the Rule 5 draft but returned to the Yankees.
• Have you noticed … that Stanton has the hardest-hit ball of 2021? It was a 120 mph single off Toronto’s Jordan Romano on April 13. No surprise there. Statcast began monitoring exit velocity in 2015 and in each of the seven seasons, Stanton has the hardest-hit ball. That includes 2019-20 when he appeared in just 41 games combined.
There is no doubt that when Stanton squares a pitch it is often a “wow” moment. But in many ways this is the Yankee lineup — you will find, for example, Judge and Gary Sanchez all over the best of exit velocity and distance on homers as well. Stanton has the farthest or second-farthest homer hit from 2018-21.
But the idea is not to win valuable carnival stuffed animals for velocity or distance, but baseball games. Of course, hitting the ball hard is valuable — the harder the more likely it lands some place for a hit. Too often, though, it feels like the exchange rate for Stanton and Sanchez, in particular, is “wow” moments interspersed with too many meaningless at-bats. It reflects a Yankee lineup that, even at its best, would be described as dangerous, but not full of good hitters.
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