There’s been a ton of Yankees and Yankees-adjacent news in just the last couple days, so let’s get at them in a thoughts post.
1. Dombrowski firing shakes up Red Sox: Just on the face of it, the Red Sox firing Dave Dombrowski, their president of baseball operations, less than 11 months after they won the World Series is wild. We’ve seen them move on from Theo Epstein and Ben Cherington in just the last eight years, but this was quite the move, even if it had been rumored for over a month.
Dombrowski has a reputation for coming in when a team has built up its farm system and has some Major League talent, then taking the next step in the rebuild for trading away prospects to get more MLB talent to supplement the roster. That’s worked for perennial contenders in Detroit and a championship team in Boston.
Bringing in J.D. Martinez, Craig Kimbrel, Chris Sale and David Price, among others, worked in an all-time great 2018 season. You can rightfully quibble with some of his offseason moves after the title, but some of the problems this year are simply bad luck.
But 63-year-old Dombrowski might not fit a rebuild, or retooling as the case is, in Boston. Martinez is likely to opt-out and the team may decide to trade Mookie Betts (more on that in the next point), all while the team is trying to figure out a pitching staff that went off the rails in 2019. The Sox still have the core of a title contender with Betts, Bogaerts, Devers and Benintendi, but the team also is looking to off-load payroll and not run into the top luxury tax tier.
Subsequent reports paint Dombrowski as creating disfunction in Boston’s front office, but I suspect the payroll concerns and change in direction of the team coupled with Dombrowski’s apparent old-school nature were larger factors.
For now, reports say that four people from the Red Sox’s front office — Raquel Ferreira, Brian O’Halloran, Zack Scott and Eddie Romero — will run the team on an interim basis while they search for a new top exec.
Ferreira will be the highest-ranking woman in a baseball front office, according to Jeff Passan, while Romero ran the international scouting department when the team signed Yoan Moncada. At the same time, they also were busted for violating international bonus pool rules, though I figure a lot of teams do similar tricks. They were just one of the teams that were caught.
2. Future for Betts in Boston: Are the Red Sox on the precipice of another step back? I figured their contention window might be limited to Chris Sale’s time under contract when they traded for him and that might be correct as far as his first contract goes. His extension, kicking in next year, makes his improvement paramount to the team’s ability to compete for another title soon.
But with the team already sporting the highest payroll in baseball, it looks like ownership will cut back. Alex Speier of the Boston Globe reported that the Red Sox are unlikely to retain both Martinez and Betts next year. That would alleviate payroll concerns, yet it would likely create even bigger roster questions.
Betts has just one more year under contract. The team could certainly get prospects and perhaps a young pitcher for him, but they won’t get a haul unless the team acquiring him gets to negotiate an extension, something Betts might be unwilling to do.
The Red Sox should keep Betts. That’s simple. It’s crazy not to. He’s one of the best players in baseball on both sides of the ball and is young enough for one to believe he’ll continue to be for a while. He’s the type of player you break the bank for and figure out the rest of the roster later.
Without Betts, even if Martinez is retained, the Red Sox would be a lesser contender in 2020 and certainly far worse than the Yankees on paper. Selfishly, I’d like to see him traded to the NL, but there’s no way Boston should let him go. He’s Mookie freaking Betts! (Related: If he’s a free agent after 2020, the Yankees should pursue him. It doesn’t matter how crowded their outfield is. You make room for a player like him.)
3. Aaron Hicks + Mike Tauchman injuries hit NYY hard: The Yankees got a one-two gut punch with Hicks have a setback/going for a second opinion followed by Tauchman’s calf injury on Sunday night. What a rough 48 hours.
The clock is ticking for both players. Hicks returned with six games to go in 2017 and played the entire postseason, but he’s now been hurt in September or October for all four of his seasons in New York. This injury seems like one that could end his season prematurely. We don’t know very much on the Tauchman front, but he had a tremendous opportunity in front of him with Hicks out. He’s, at the very least, a valuable pinch runner and defensive replacement in October. His recent slump makes one less confident of his bat shining through.
Now, the Yankees’ outfield depth is Aaron Judge, Brett Gardner and some question marks. Those two will be in right and center for the postseason as of today, while left field and a fourth outfielder role are tough to predict. Giancarlo Stanton hasn’t ramped up his rehab yet. Cameron Maybin subbed in for Tauchman last night, but he’s dealing with a wrist injury himself. The team has been hesitant to use Clint Frazier, even this month.
Ideally, Stanton would return, man left field and relegate a healthy Maybin or Tauchman to fourth outfielder status. But with his PCL strain, there’s a real chance Stanton doesn’t come back or is limited to DH. In that scenario, the Yankees will do what they’ve done all season and rely on the next man up, though October doesn’t favor pure depth. A healthy Stanton in left field like he was on Opening Day remains the Yankees’ best option for October.
4. Piggybacking CC Sabathia and Domingo German: Aaron Boone told reporters that Sabathia will come off the IL on Wednesday and will be followed in his start by German. That’s both an acknowledgment that Sabathia can’t go deep into games right now and a move to give German a much-needed blow.
It’s the perfect team to have the duo face. The Tigers have the worst record in baseball. Their offense is historically bad. Sabathia and German could clear six innings at least against that roster.
But what does this mean moving forward? Boone also said that they’re preparing German for a potential bullpen role in the postseason. This duo, provided Sabathia is healthy, would form a pretty good starting pitcher for October, but that also means spending two roster spots on one rotation spot. German could pitch again in a series out of relief but not right away.
If Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and Luis Severino are all ready to go Oct. 4, then this combination makes sense. Perhaps even a (gulp) Happ-German pairing could do the trick if Sabathia isn’t right. But that all precludes German from starting himself, which he’s proven he can do in some big spots. He’s definitely one of the Yankees’ four best starters with Severino back.
Still, German’s home run problems and the homer-heavy nature of October baseball might make him best suited for a swingman role if he has good starting partner. He could give you six impressive innings, or allow a pair of back-breaking homers, though so could the rest of the staff. A shorter outing of 1-2 times through a lineup would optimize German, though better pitchers than him have been hooked that quickly in October.
5. East September Schedule: The Yankees have a cupcake schedule down the stretch. Following tonight’s game with Boston, they play three games against the aforementioned Tigers squad, six with the Blue Jays, three with the Angels and the close with two in Tampa and three in Texas.
After Boston, the two games against the Rays are their only remaining games against a team either over .500 or in postseason contention. The Yankees also have three days off in the final two weeks of the season.
That gives the team plenty of leeway to rest players without compromising the pursuit of homefield advantage. Those days off, as well as Severino’s return and the idea of a six-man rotation, also give the Pinstripers a chance to set up their rotation however they please for October.
Is it that unrealistic to hope for a 12-6 run over these last 18 games? That would leave the Yankees with 106 victories. That might be enough to hold off the Astros, who own the tiebreaker over New York but have four games with the A’s starting today. Hard not to root for the A’s until at least the ALDS.
6. Roster spots up for grabs: As a follow up to my postseason roster article, I wanted to look into which roster spots are actually up for grabs for the Yankees right now.
By my count, there are 18 locks + Happ, who I think is moving towards that status with his last few starts and his success vs. lefties. Severino, Stanton and Dellin Betances figure to have enough time to return and make the roster.
That puts the Yankees with 11 hitters and 11 pitchers. I’m guessing they won’t go with 14 position players and will instead ride with 13 hitters and 12 pitchers. One of the bubble position players will be an outfielder, either Tauchman, Maybin or a healthy Hicks. The other spot could to another from that trio or Tyler Wade as a speedy utility hitter. Fraizer, again, remains unlikely.
That leaves one pitcher left. Sabathia is a prime candidate if healthy. If he’s not right, or the Yankees go with 13 pitchers in October, then Luis Cessa, Nestor Cortes Jr., Jonathan Loaisiga and Cory Gearrin are possibilities. I doubt Ben Heller has enough time to gain Boone’s trust. Loaisiga might be the best in terms of upside and ability to eat innings, though Cessa has been an ideal long man.