Happy Friday, friends. Six days until Opening Day. Six! I don’t know about you, but I am hyped. And I mean HYPED. A full season of Yankee baseball is something we used to take for granted and it got taken away from us last year. I think I’d be unusually excited for the season no matter what after the last twelve months. Add in that the Yanks are a juggernaut and it’s even better.
Still have six days, though, so here’s a mailbag to keep us engaged. As always, send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. We answer our favorites each Friday. Answers after the jump.
Sam Asks: If you could guarantee that one of Gary Sánchez, Clint Frazier, or Gleyber Torres would provide Gold Glove level defense in 2021, which player would you choose and why?
Gary Sánchez, because I am a petty man. Aside from the Yankees winning the World Series, a monster year behind the plate and at the dish for Gary Sánchez would be on the short list of most satisfying season outcomes for me personally. I root hard for the dude and really want to see him have success. Plus, it would mean that the annoying passed ball discourse – which is incredibly irritating no matter camp you’re in – is finally put to bed. Imagine a season without Gary’s defense being a major point of contention. It would be beautiful.
That’s my answer for me. I’m not sure it’s the same answer if you ask Brian Cashman though. I think he’d choose Gleyber. His defense at short has been shaky at best throughout the early stages of his career. That’s putting it mildly, too. He’s so young that he can improve – and his bat, in a normal, non-pandemic season, is enough to compensate anyway – so I personally haven’t spent a ton of time worrying about it.
That said, if he took the leap from shaky to world-class defender at short for the Yankees this season, that’s probably the single-best defensive improvement for the Yanks in 2021. It would do wonders for the team and make them, and their young star, even more dangerous.
Iron Mike Asks: If you were Aaron Boone and you were demanded to significantly change the batting order (only 2 players can remain where they traditionally are), how would you change the order?
Great question. Let’s start by making some assumptions. The Yanks never use the same lineup twice, at least not until October rolls around. That’s not just because of injuries – they rotate guys and give tons of rest. We all know this. We don’t know the Opening Day lineup yet, but I think it will likely look a lot like this:
The only substitution there would be Clint over Brett, in my opinion, so let’s roll with that as our framework. If I had to dramatically change this, I think I’d go with this, which is outlandish but fun, with the two non-changes with asterisks:
- Aaron Judge
- Aaron Hicks
- DJ LeMahieu
- Giancarlo Stanton*
- Luke Voit*
- Gio Urshela
- Gleyber Torres
- Clint Frazier/Brett Gardner
- Gary Sánchez
Okay, it’s not that different, but the top sure is. The logic there was just that we have to make a dramatic shift and the most logical way, in my opinion, was to bat Judge leadoff. I think he’s the best hitter on the team and want to get him the most at-bats possible. Hicks is second behind him only because the man never hits into double plays. (He has done so in only 5% of his chances as a big leaguer, 50% better than league average.)
Putting LeMahieu behind him was due to the fact he can’t slip too much and is a RISP machine. Then you leave Stanton and Voit as power-hitting middle-of-the-order bats and slightly tweak the rest. I’m sure everyone would have a slightly different answer to this, which is why it’s a fun question.
The bottom line is that it should really show how deep the full Yankee lineup is. It’s truly cyclical. I also think they construct the lineup in a smart and thoughtful way. I like basically everything they do with it and I think we as fans spend too much time worrying about lineup construction anyway. It is all marginal stuff. With a team as good offensively as the Yankees, just stay healthy and pencil their names in. They’ll take care of the rest.
Ryan Asks: Who is the biggest threat in the AL East this year? All offseason I felt it was Toronto, but now that they’ve had such a spate of injuries, I’m not so sure.
Tampa Bay. If you asked this a few weeks ago, I may have said Toronto, but they were more of a trendy pick than the actual option. I know the Rays shed talent since their World Series loss, but they pantsed the Yankees last year. It was embarrassing. They kicked the Yanks’ ass in the season, won the division, eliminated them in the postseason, and won the pennant. Unfortunately, this is the Rays’ division right now – even if the Yankees should, and I think will, handily win the division this year on talent alone.
Toronto is up-and-coming, but I don’t think they’re quite ready to make the leap yet. I could see them finishing in second, but that would be in the “everything goes right” scenario, and that hasn’t been the case so far. I mean, check out this injury roster right now:
- Kirby Yates: likely needs Tommy John
- George Springer: Grade 2 oblique strain
- Robbie Ray: hurt is elbow slipping in the shower, missing TBD time
- Thomas Hatch: right elbow soreness, shut down
- Nate Pearson: groin injury, working his way back
Yikes! That’s real Yankees energy right there, is it not? And most of this happened in a several day span. Anyway, while only Yates looks to be a long-term injury, it’s still not great for the Jays. This obviously does not take them out of the running, nor should it dramatically change your perception of them, but it’s worth keeping in mind.
As for the Rays, they have some injury news of their own. Nick Anderson, who has been baseball’s most dominant reliever the past two seasons, has a partial tear in an elbow ligament. He’s out until at least July. That’s a big blow for a team that also saw Jose Alvarado depart for Philadelphia in the offseason. The Rays always make bullpens work, though, and they’ll be the Yanks’ primary competition until they prove otherwise, depleted talent or not.
Andre Asks: How much are you buying into the league finally cracking down on foreign substance use by pitchers? Could this potentially hurt Cole, who has been accused of doctoring the ball in the past?
I’m buying into it, at least so far as it seems like the league is serious about making a big show about this. Some pitcher somewhere will get suspended for doctoring a ball, and probably pretty early on. They’ve made too much of a big deal about it to not follow through. They’ll want to at least seem like they’re delivering, even if for the PR.
For background, the league issued a memo earlier this week detailing their new practice. They will be:
- Assigning dugout/clubhouse monitors to try to root out tampering where it happens.
- Repossessing game-used balls that raise suspicion for study.
- Charting year-over-year spin rates to more closely monitor those with huge year-over-year jumps.
Establishing this sort of infrastructure implies that the league is serious, and I am sure it will have at least a limited impact on behavior. I think we all know that doctoring the ball is as old as the game itself. Personally, I’ve never really cared. It’s whatever. (In a moment of personal hypocrisy, I only care when it’s obviously Trevor Bauer doing it.) Someone will get nailed, it will be a story for three days, and then we’ll all move on. Circle of life.
Gerrit Cole has been at the heart of this, though. He was named in a lawsuit, as alleged above, and Trevor Bauer explicitly said that Cole and his former teammate Justin Verlander were doctoring the ball in Houston. That’s how, according to Bauer, Cole took a leap and Verlander experienced a renaissance while with the Astros. Bauer is probably on to something there, given Houston’s history, but again: it’s whatever. It does not bother me. Remember when Mike Pineda was slathered in pine tar in Boston? This is not the sign-stealing scandal. Everyone actually does this.
Will it effect Cole any more than anyone else? I don’t see why it would. He has absurdly good stuff and velocity. That’s always been true throughout his career. True in Pittsburg, true in Houston, true in New York. That won’t change if he can’t tweak the ball. So, to answer the question: I buy that the league is serious, and I do not buy at all that it will have a measurable impact on Gerrit Cole, or anyone else. (Though it would be nice if it did on Trevor Bauer. Hey, this is my website – I don’t have to be consistent.)
Mr. Rodgers Asks: Which Spring Training above expectations performances are you not buying into, and which below expectations performance do you not buy into?
Any of them. Aaron Judge just hit his first home run of the spring last night, and honestly – I didn’t even notice he hadn’t hit one yet. I cannot stress enough that I do not pay even the slightest attention to Spring Training statistics for anyone but those on the margins, like Jay Bruce or Nick Nelson. And even then, I only care in so far as it matters for who makes the roster. They are the only players for whom performance really matters. For everyone else, it’s just getting into game shape and staying healthy. To illustrate the point, the Yankee with the highest OPS in the Grapefruit League is Chris Gittens. Luke Voit and DJ LeMahieu are near the bottom.
What I do care about is physical tweaks to delivery, stances, or defensive positioning. That is interesting but even then, I put more stock into it when the games really count. Just me though.
As far as the question goes, I’ll say Lucas Luetge as the over-performer I’m not buying. Not that he can’t be good, but is our man going to post strikeout rates of nearly 2 per inning all season? I highly doubt it! This is a career MiLB arm. Anything is possible, and it’s certainly within bounds that he will be serviceable or even good, but I need to see it during a real game.
In terms of below expectations spring performances, I’m saying Aaron Judge. He’ll hit better than .250/.333/.375 this season. You can count on that.