The Yankees Dilemma: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”
Many will recognize this from a poem by Robert Frost titled “The Road Not Taken.” Its usefulness as an introduction to this column commands itself as a fitting example of the Yankees and the dilemma they face regarding two potential and perennial All-Stars in their lineup.
Both Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird are home-grown talents from the Yankees farm system. As such, they are treated with the same kindness and attention as the wayward son who grows up one step out of touch with the family norm. You love them, you see the potential for what they could be – but still – they disappoint.
At some point in the future, both Sanchez and Bird can be visualized in their proverbial rocking chairs on the back porch looking back on 2018 as nothing but a nightmare. Individually, both have underperformed, and that is a generous assessment of Bird with a bat and Sanchez with a glove behind the plate.
Injuries – bah humbug. All major league ballplayers fight injuries over the course of their career. But when the bell rings and the doctors pronounce a player “fit to play,” the only thing that matters at this level is producing on the field.
You know the stats on each, or Baseball Reference will happily remind you that Greg Bird is not, as Brian Cashman proclaimed not long ago, the “best pure hitter” in the Yankees system. And Gary Sanchez, for whatever reasons (I have my thoughts), will never be a major league catcher.
This doesn’t sound much like the straw that broke the camel’s back regarding Gary Sanchez with his two passed balls and two wild pitches charged to a befuddled Luis Severino in a game the Yankees needed to win…..but here’s Aaron Boone‘s lame attempt to make everything “nice”…
Meanwhile, Greg Bird is almost an afterthought in the Boone’s Yankees lineup given the emergence of Luke Voit (who?) as a remembrance of the spark Todd Frazier supplied in the Yankees clubhouse at the same time last season when they needed it most. Voit is producing. End of story.
Except it isn’t the end of the story. The Yankees are still married to both Bird and Sanchez, and there doesn’t seem to be much forthrightness in the way management views either player. Forget 2018, but what about next season?
Joe Girardi was obvious regarding his opinion of Sanchez’s ability to block pitches behind the plate, and he was not bashful about taking Sanchez to task in full view of a YES Network telecast last season in the dugout and during a game. Here’s Girardi again trying to be “nice” about Sanchez as a catcher from a year ago – but still getting the unheard message across…
There’s some history here. Yet, how far do the Yankees go with their wayward son, Gary Sanchez? Can they afford to keep him on the team as a designated hitter? After all, he did club a two-run home run last night accounting for the Yankees only two runs in the game.
And if Sanchez is termed the team’s DH next season, how will that impact Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Brett Gardner, an aging but vital piece to the Yankees offense next season? Does Boone throw Sanchez in there as catcher once or twice a week and hope for the best? That’s not like the Yankees – no way.
Greg Bird is a more comfortable choice to make. He either stays or he goes. Is he a head case or a player, as the Yankees would like us to believe, who just needs more time to “get going” after so much time lost to injury. Sorry, I’m not buying.. Nor am I buying Bird’s “Well, what are you gonna do?” answer to a ball falling on the warning track as a pinch-hitter in another Yankee’s loss (Video).
Look, I don’t pretend this game is easy. Both players are under pressure. But from the Yankees perspective, what is the usefulness of plodding down the same road, instead of taking the fork to a new and untried road?
Could, for example, Bryce Harper replace and even supersede the offensive numbers of Gary Sanchez in a Yankees uniform in 2019? Seems like a no-brainer, no? And could the signing of Harper also serve as a replacement for Bird at first base? Remember, Harper has thrown out the seeds for that to happen by demanding the Nationals give him an opportunity to field ground balls at first, and they (of course) acceded to his “request.”
Meanwhile, the Yankees could do far worse than Austin Romine as a first-string catcher next year. At least he can catch the ball.
Sanchez is controlled by the Yankees for the next four years. The team could keep him as a DH, subject to playing a couple of games a week, and that would be his lot having no recourse except through arbitration beginning in 2020. And based on how hard the Yankees have tried to accommodate this young man, that (in my opinion), would be just desserts for Gary Sanchez.
As for Bird, a trade during the offseason should be imminent. Whatever it is with Bird, it ain’t working. Take the road less traveled and hope he doesn’t come back to bite you down the road.
Let it be for now. The die is cast on this Yankees season, for better or worse with both players involved. But come the offseason, among the myriad of issues Brian Cashman will be dealing with, the Sanchez/Bird dilemma can be of no higher importance.
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