The new first baseman [2021 Season Review]

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In a surprise trade deadline move, the Yankees acquired Anthony Rizzo from the Cubs in exchange for prospects Alex Vizcaíno and Kevin Alcántara. The Yankees were actively pursuing Trevor Story, but turned to Rizzo once the Rockies decided to keep their shortstop. Luke Voit, the incumbent first baseman, was hurt at the time of the deal but it didn’t seem like he had a weak hold on his job, either (though Voit was involved in trade rumors himself). The Yankees gave Rizzo the gig and let him run with it.

Ultimately, the need for left-handed lineup balance and a low-strikeout hitter made Rizzo a good fit, even if it made for perplexing handling of Voit the rest of the season (a subject to revisit once we publish Voit’s season review). We may see more of Rizzo in pinstripes depending on how free agency goes, but for now, let’s reflect on his second half stint in the Bronx.


The Process

The Process. For the better part of a decade, we’ve heard this term in sports, sometimes earnestly, sometimes as a mockery of that earnestness. Regardless, though, every team in every sport has a Process. From time to time, that Process needs to be altered if not outright changed. As I wrote last week, the Yankees are at a crossroads and their process is in need of alteration at the least and revolution at the most.

Allow me an oversimplification. There are two parts to the Process that have to happen before we see the results on the field: acquisition and application. First you’ve gotta get what you need, then you’ve gotta put that stuff–players, information, whatever–in a good position to succeed. For the most part, the Yankees are pretty good at the former.

Year in and year out, they put a good team out on the field. They’ve had no losing seasons since I was, like, five and have only missed the playoffs four times since 1994. That’s really good! Of course, that’s only led to one championship in the last twenty years and has more recently ended in a good deal of postseason heartbreak. This is all to say they’ve been good, but not good enough. The acquisition part of the process needs a change.

What that change looks like can vary. Maybe it’s getting players with a slightly different hitting profile, getting away from all take-and-rake guys. Maybe it’s going back to the basics and adding steady left-handed power. Maybe–and most importantly, given their commitment to load management–it’s investing in the bench so that Rougned Odor, Tyler Wade, and Brett Gardner aren’t your best replacements (Gardner’s oft-resurgent 2021 notwithstanding). Maybe it’s signing or trading for reliable pithcers and not reclamation pieces. Regardless, the roster construction looks a little stale and inflexible at this point and there needs to be a tweak.

Another tweak? Remember who you are. You’re the Yankees. You literally print money. Act like it! Stop blushing at how much money you make and pour some of it back into the team like you did in the early 2000’s. The Yankee payroll is high, but relative to the league and relative to their own revenue, they still spend like it’s that time. To borrow from my own tweets:

I know that spending big sounds obvious and very “if the Boss were alive,” but I trust them (mostly) to spend more judiciously than they did in the past. My point is that big spending–Dodgers aside–is the new market inefficiency and the Yankees are uniquely positioned to exploit it. A bunch of teams are trying to lose. A bunch of teams aren’t trying too hard to win. There’s a bit of a vacuum there and the Yankees can and should fill it. Grabbing reclamation project or scrap heap projects is cute and can prove that you’re really smart and what not, but it only gets you so far, doesn’t it? And that’s if it even works with those players, which is very much not a guarantee.

Stop trying to be the smartest guy in the room. Stop trying to out Rays the Rays. Use your advantage.

On the application side of things, the fact that the Yankees just let their hitting coaches go shows that a change is, indeed, coming. The organization prides itself on its analytics department, which is great. The more information the better. But there’s clearly a disconnect in how that information is being delivered to players or executed by players. While the coaches and analytics department ultimately don’t play the games for the players, it’s disconcerting when Gleyber Torres takes a step back like he did, when Gary Sanchez is merely average instead of great, when DJ LeMahieu turns into a pumpkin, when a multitude of starters whose potential the Yankees were going to unlock–Michael Pineda, Nate Eovaldi, Sonny Gray, Lance Lynn, James Paxton–just doesn’t work out.

The Yankees have earned a degree of trust in their Process with literal decades of success. But that trust may be waning among the fanbase and that process may be too stuck in the past. To paraphrase Don Draper, change doesn’t have to be good or bad. It can just be. It might be time for the Process to change.

Mailbag: Hitting coach vs. offensive philosophy, 2022 shortstop, playoff format

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Good morning and happy Friday, everyone. MLB’s final four teams are set with the Dodgers-Giants NLDS matchup coming to an end last night. We’re down to the Red Sox, Astros, Dodgers, and Braves. Uh, go National League, I guess?

What a disappointing end to a mostly exciting game last night, by the way. Hate to see a game end on a check-swing judgement call (and a bad judgement, at that), but so it goes. Max Scherzer probably finishes off Wilmer Flores on the next pitch anyway, but who knows? Nonetheless, I’d be apoplectic if I was a Giants fan.

Now, to the subject of today’s post: your mailbag questions. As a reminder, send your questions to viewsfrom314 [at] gmail [dot] com. We’ll pick our favorites for the next edition. Here’s what we have this week:

Yankees part ways with coaches Marcus Thames and Phil Nevin

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The first two chips have fallen. The Athletic’s Lindsey Adler reported that the Yankees informed hitting coach Marcus Thames and third base coach Phil Nevin that they would not return to the staff for the 2022 season.

The Gamble on Corey Kluber [2021 Season Review]

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Now that the Yankees’ 2021 season is behind us, it’s time to bring back our Season Review series. Over the next few months, we’ll drop one or two of these pieces each week. These posts will look back on the given player’s season and offer a few takeaways from their performance. This year’s series starts today with Corey Kluber.

The Yankees signed two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber to a one-year contract for the 2021 season with the hope that he’d rediscover some semblance of his former self. The righty was hurt for most of 2019 and 2020, but rehabbed with Yankees’ employee Eric Cressey, who undoubtedly gave the organization a vote of confidence in Kluber. In the end, there were some flashes of brilliance, but as a whole, the gamble did not work out as hoped.

It was easy to dream on Kluber reverting to his old self, which would have created perhaps the best one-two punch in the majors alongside Gerrit Cole. That dream started to look like a reality, particularly when he tossed a no-hitter against the Rangers. It was simply too good to be true, though. Kluber suffered a shoulder injury not long after and didn’t resurface again until the very end of the season.

No Kluber for a few months didn’t wind up being a big problem for this year’s team, at least. The pitching staff was great. Rather, the offense was the real downfall. Still, it’s hard not to wonder how things could have been different if the Yankees turned to someone other than Kluber in the offseason to bolster the rotation.

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