The Yankees, 2020, aside, have a conundrum of changes to consider for 2021. Here’s a discussion primer to jettison the Hot Stove League.
The Yankees team that takes the Opening Day field for 2021 will not be the same as the team leaving the field, dissembled by the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS.
But as we know, it’s the players on the field who determine the outcome of a single game or an entire season.
For discussion only, here are a few things to think about as the Hot Stove League nears.
Yankees 2021 – They Fulfilled A Role – But It’s Time To Go
In 2019, the Yankees were fortunate to find useful replacement players to fill the void left by a rash of injuries.
Mike Ford, a backup first baseman for Luke Voit, was one of those players, contributing a .259 BA, 12 HR, and 25 RBI in only fifty game appearances. Those numbers fell off substantially in 2020 (.226, 5, 11).
If the Yankees don’t move Ford (right), it’s likely only because he is a left-handed power bat in a dominant right-handed lineup.
Similarly, Mike Tauchman had a good run for the Yankees in 2019 but slid off considerably this season. No home runs and 14 RBI with a .242 BA is far removed from 13 HR, 42 RBI, and a .277 BA this year.
Also, a lefty like Ford, Tauchman’s need is shaky, especially if the Yankees are finally going to cede left field to Clint Frazier as a regular, with Brett Gardner signed for a final season in pinstripes as a backup.
Yankees 2021: Hands Are Tied – What Are They Supposed To Do?
The elephant in the room on this one everyone is aware of – Giancarlo Stanton.
Possessing a contract that keeps him in a Yankees uniform to the end of this decade, the Yankees (except for a pittance to be paid by the Marlins), owe Stanton the remainder of the $300+ million contract, Derek Jeter, conveniently unloaded as soon as he took hold as a minority owner in one phone call to Brian Cashman.
The Yankees and their fans are left with the memory of Stanton’s power surge in this year’s playoffs, but…well…you know the rest.
Stanton can do the Yankees favor, along with (possibly) himself, if he elects to exercise the opt-out in his contract, by moving away from the New York pressure-cooker to the sun and laid-back environment of California, where he grew us.
Short of that, all Brian Cashman can do is hope to get lucky as he makes the rounds of teams on the West Coast, with a pitch that mimics the one he heard from Jeter, trading Stanton for a bag of peanuts and a coke, or what amounted to Starlin Castro.
Yankees 2021: Starting Pitcher Studs – Use ‘Em Or Lose ‘Em
Assuming the Yankees do not exercise the $17 million option they have on 33-year-old J. A. Happ, five days after the World Series ends, they will count only Gerrit Cole and (possibly) Jordan Montgomery on their starting staff.
Paxton, who has lights out stuff and a no-hitter behind him, has been one injury after another since coming to the Yankees last year, and even Trump’s personal doctor might not consider ruling him “healthy” and risk-free for 2021.
The question for the Yankees comes to this. They rightly hype the young pitching talent in their system. Headed by Clarke Schmidt and Deivi Garcia, backed up by Michael King and Albert Abreu – so what are they waiting for?
Are these young studs bound for the same fate as the previous generation of Yankees starting pitching hopefuls where we find the likes of Michael Pineda (Minnesota Twins), Justus Sheffield (Seattle Mariners), and James Kaprielian (Oakland A’s), all of whom continue to progress in their development following trades by Brian Cashman?
If you build it, they will come. Mix that quartet in with Cole and Montgomery over the course of (hopefully) a full 162-game season next year, and what’s the worst that can happen?
The Yankees lose the Division again but make the playoffs where the true fate of the 2021 season will rest?
Yankees 2021: What To Do With A Wife-Beater
German turned the baseball world around when he indicated he might be done and ready to retire. It’s left to the Yankees to figure out if this is a man who momentarily lost his mind, or if he had a bad day.
Aside from the obvious question as to whether or not German fits the mold of a New York Yankee and their goody-two-shoes no facial hair projected image, Domingo German was lights out in 2019 (18-4) before leaving the team holding the bag.
Only 28, German is eligible for his first of three arbitration years, and though it’s not like the Yankees to put payroll first, in this case, the ball is in their court, and German can be had for $600,000, and a “show us or else” 2021 season. Why not?
The Yankees Mystery Man – Aaron Judge
What to do with Aaron Judge, the face of the Yankees, known throughout the baseball world, a giant in size who sends balls deep into the night, and not to be underestimated, the darling of women fans of baseball?
When it all began in 2017, it was rumored the Yankees had already enlisted a sculptor to carve out the monument that would one day occupy the same territory in Monument Park for Aaron Judge.
And what a year it was (Pete Alonso, are you listening?). League-leading stats in home runs (52), runs scored (128), 127 BB, and yes, but who cared 208 strikeouts.
Yankees fans, however, are painfully aware of the Aaron Judge we have seen since then. It’s always been tied to injuries that have limited his ability to remain on the playing field for any length of time, but we’re talking dollars and cents here when it comes to the big-guy’s future with the Yankees.
Four years later, it was presumed that 2021 would be the year the Yankees seriously engaged Judge about his future, with a long-term extension on the table with both parties eagerly pursuing.
At the moment, it’s not an immediate question of money as Judge is coming off a year in which his salary ($8.5 million) barely put a dent in the Yankees overall payroll.
It is, however, a question of value to the Yankees this year and next as Judge works his way through the arbitration process, with the likelihood he will not end up on the food-line anytime soon before becoming a full-fledged free agent in 2023.
Alas, with the Yankees in the driver’s seat (excepting the arbitration arbiter), Aaron Judge is likely to join Kris Bryant in having to play the process through – with eyes forward only on free agency.
Bring ‘Em Back; You Screwed Up Once – Don’t Do It Again.
Whether or not moving Gleyber Torres from second base to shortstop to replace Didi Gregorius, the one that got away, we’ll never know if that contributed to the down year Torres had in 2020, especially in the field.
What we do know is this. Beyond the offensive slide we saw from Torres until the playoffs hit, he has an inexcusable -34 rating in defensive runs saved at shortstop.
He’s a second baseman who has major league star written all over him – if the Yankees can say – he’s our man at second until further notice.
Gregorius did what he had to do after being given unacceptable terms from Cashman. As far as we know, he holds no regrets about the shunning of his services by the Yankees.
Gregorius landed on his feet, signing a one-year deal with the Phillies and a reunion with Joe Girardi this year.
Core Yankees – remember that. There are a few left. Didi Gregorius is one and don’t forget – he is the man who seamlessly took over for the retiring Derek Jeter following a trade from the Arizona Diamondbacks and a career going nowhere.
Am I contradicting myself calling for a blast from the past instead of a call for the Yankees to get younger?
Perhaps, but Didi Gregorius, as a much-missed lefty bat in the Yankees, should be an exception, especially with no guarantee LeMahieu will be in a Yankees uniform in 2021.
At the risk of belaboring the point, you might have noticed Gregorius is the featured image I selected for this story. He’s that important both on and off the field for the 2021 Yankees.
GM For A Day?
Of course, that’s what this is all about. My theories, your theories – we are fans who take the Yankees seriously as a welcome escape from – well, you know – everything else.
We do it every year, but if you sense like me, this year is different, it may only be because we’ll be entering a dozen seasons without a World Title, and just as with the upcoming vote to elect a president in three weeks, this offseason will have consequences that are far-reaching for the Yankees.
As we saw this year, occasionally, the trade deadline is too late to bring in reinforcements and players who can make the difference.
Ergo, the offseason starts now for the New York Yankees.