As I’m writing this, it’s Saturday afternoon and the Yankees are losing 8-0 to the Mets. Taijuan Walker, whom the Yankees were linked to in the offseason, is throwing a no-hitter. I was frustrated with the Yankees before today and now, well…
If there is any silver lining to this–a thin one at best–it’s that we’re lucky that a middling, near-.500 team is so frustrating to us. We could be Pirates or Royals fans. But, to twist the old Spider-Man saying, with great expectations comes great responsibility. The Yankees expected themselves to be championship caliber this year. We expected them to be championship caliber this year. So far, that hasn’t happened. And with each passing day, each week with another embarrassing loss (or set of losses!), it looks less and less likely, no matter how much we here have tried to be positive.
When he spoke to the media, Hal Steinbrenner said–however ineloquently–that the blame lies with the players and, loathe as I may be to agree with him, he’s right. The players, for the most part, haven’t played well enough. Aaron Judge has been great, as has Gerrit Cole. Giancarlo Stanton has also performed well. But those are the stars, the leaders of the team both literally and metaphorically. The other players haven’t played up to snuff, including DJ LeMahieu and, to an extent, Gio Urshela. This also goes for Gleyber Torres, whom Randy spoke about at length on the podcast. Jordan Montgomery hasn’t been consistent. Even at the minor league level, Deivi Garcia has been a colossal disappointment and the rotation is feeling his absence.
Despite the fact that the Yankees looked like a 95+ win team on paper, there were some question mark players coming into this year and almost all of them have answered those questions in the negative. Brett Gardner looks done. Clint Frazier has taken his opportunity and fallen with it rather than run with it. Jameson Taillon–despite many mitigating circumstances–hasn’t been reliable. Corey Kluber and Darren O’Day had/have been effective, but injured. Justin Wilson, when not injured, has been bad. Very bad. The only player who’s answered questions about himself is Gary Sánchez (we love to see it; haters are mad, etc.).
We all have frustrations with the front office or coaching staff, which I’ll address, but they aren’t the ones on the field playing poorly. Simply put, the players need to play better.
Those question marks and their continued poor performance reflect poorly on the coaching staff. While Gary is definitely a triumph for them this year, the regressions of Torres and Frazier are downright tragedies. The same could be said of Garcia’s regression, but that’s a different coaching staff. The team has been in an offensive malaise for most of the year and while it’s on the players, mainly, to break out of that, the coaching staff seems to have made few adjustments to players who need them. Aaron Boone and his staff generally present a calm, relaxed front, which is usually a good thing in a long baseball season. But that attitude hits a lot differently when the team is just a game above .500 rather than comfortably winning the division (remember what that felt like?).
Beyond the on-field staff, the front office should accept some blame here, too. Again, we thought this roster would be good enough to win a lot and, obviously, so did the front office. But it’s clear the team is too right-handed. It’s clear the gambles for Taillon and Kluber, while certainly defensible, did not pay off. It’s clear that building a solid rotation beyond one ace eludes Brian Cashman and his team. It’s clear that the team did not have good enough depth on the position side.
Yes, the Yankee right handed hitters are, generally, good enough against right handed pitchers. Yes, Taillon and Kluber had bankable upside. Yes, you hope not to have to use depth. But the Yankees’ bets in these areas did not pay off this year. The Yankees’ roster construction has become stale and rigid and easy to beat. For proof of that, look no further than this excerpt from a piece by Lindsey Adler:
Let’s go over that again: “I’ve been writing the same game plan against the Yankees for years.” That’s embarrassing. That’s an indictment on the organization in ways I can’t even describe. It speaks to an absolute arrogance in the Yankee front office that their way is superior and will never be altered. Again, yes, the Yankees have been incredibly successful for damn near thirty years, but maybe some processes need to change. Maybe some ideas need to be rethought. Maybe some changes have to happen.
To say the Yankee organization is rotten would likely be an overstatement, but let’s borrow another cliche since we already did one up above: a fish rots from the head. Hal Steinbrenner can’t play the games. He doesn’t do what the baseball operations department does. But he has the final word. Regardless of what his words may be, he doesn’t back them up with actions, at least not fully. Yes, the Yankees have signed Gerrit Cole and traded for Giancarlo Stanton, but as Bobby is quick to point out, the team has twice (!) cut $50MM in payroll during what should’ve been a slam dunk championship window. The team spends near the bottom of the league when it comes to payroll as a portion of revenue. The team has hardly budged in its spending from 2004. At least as much as the team has tried to win a championship on the field, its also tried to win Hal and company the luxury of not having to pay the luxury tax.
If Michael Kay is to be believed, the Yankees passed on Michael Brantley and Kyle Schwarber, two players who could’ve helped the Yankees for a multitude of reasons, because of cost and roster ‘constraints.’ That excuse is further proof of organizational arrogance and a pennywise, pound foolish attitude in the front office and ownership respectively. Those two things should almost never be a factor for a team as smart and as wealthy as the Yankees. They’re so smart, though, that they outsmart themselves and don’t lean on their biggest advantage nearly enough: money.
The team eventually did push three across against the Mets–woo!–but fell 8-3 on a rainy Saturday. Another dull-looking loss that has many rightfully questioning the team’s competitive spirit and determination. There’s not much time left (for Christ’s sake, [today’s] the Fourth of July!) to turn that on and I fear it might be impossible to do so.