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News & Notes: Cashman on YES, Hicks, Cortes returns

The Winter Meetings have come and gone with a thud. Sure, a few deals went down, but nothing earth-shattering. I suppose this was to be expected. Rather than a steady flow of rumors and moves, it was just like every other week this offseason.

Brian Cashman sheds some light on the Yankees’ offseason

The Yankees stood pat this week, but we do have some team-related news to relay, mostly thanks to Brian Cashman’s interview on YES yesterday. NJ.com’s Randy Miller transcribed a number of relevant quotes which I’ll break down here as well.

  • Cashman expressed the team’s intent to bring back free agent DJ LeMahieu. No shocker here.
  • After discussing LeMahieu, Meredith Marakovits asked if Masahiro Tanaka fits into the picture if the team re-signs LeMahieu. Cashman was very coy here, basically saying he couldn’t answer the question about what fits into the team’s budget. I’ve seen folks read that response as if Tanaka is a goner. I understand that sentiment, especially given his openness about wanting to bring back DJLM. However, it’s not like he was directly asked about wanting to bring back Tanaka. I wonder if he used the question being targeted toward the financial aspect to avoid talking about Tanaka at all. Perhaps that means a reunion with Tanaka isn’t out of the cards, though maybe I’m just overthinking it.
  • The GM had plenty of good things to say about Gary Sánchez, though he couched his statement by saying that they’re not giving him a pass. Cashman cited how hard he hit the ball this season when he made contact, which was obviously an issue for him (36 percent strikeout rate). It should come as no surprise that the team tendered him a contract last week based on Cashman’s steadfast belief in the backstop.
  • It sure sounds like Domingo Germán has been welcomed back based on the way Cashman spoke about the rotation. Hal Steinbrenner had previously said the team would need “proof that he [Germán] turned his life around”.
  • Cashman would like to add to the rotation this offseason, but he also stated that “you could certainly daydream” that the pitching staff might actually have everything that it already needs. Look, I love some of the young arms that this team has, but let’s add some depth please.

Aaron Hicks says his elbow still isn’t 100 percent

In addition to Cashman, the Yankees’ center fielder was also on YES last night. I believe Hicks mentioned this during the regular season, but I found it notable that he said yesterday that his elbow still doesn’t feel 100 percent after Tommy John surgery. Perhaps it won’t be, which stinks.

As Hicks noted in the interview, he felt like it took him until the end of the year to really feel more like himself. His numbers bore this out too. Offensively, that may be as a result of changing his swing so he doesn’t hyperextend his elbow. I’m pretty sure this is the first we’ve heard of Hicks having to adjust his swing mechanics since the surgery.

Nestor Cortes is back in the organization

Per his own Instagram account, Nestor Cortes has re-signed with the Yankees after spending 2020 with the Mariners. The Yanks dealt him to Seattle last offseason, and sheesh, did Cortes struggle. He had a 15.26 ERA in 7 2/3 innings with the Mariners. Elbow issues appear to be the blame here as an elbow impingement shut his season down mid-August. The lefty is now pitching in the Dominican Republic, so he’s presumably healthy.

The Yankees haven’t announced the move yet, but it’s safe to assume that this is a minor league deal. I’m sure we’ll see Cortes receive an invite to spring training, too. Odds are he’s just minor league depth during 2021, though he could serve as a mop-up man if absolutely needed in the big leagues.

Thoughts after the end of season press conferences

Aaron Boone and Brian Cashman spoke to the media yesterday afternoon. Each took the better part of an hour for their discussions with the media, though I think folks were a bit more curious to hear what the general manager had to say. We had already heard Boone talk a bit after the Game 5 loss, though yesterday came with a few days to marinate after the end of the season. I know I was more interested in what Cashman had to say, at least.

I do have one thing I want to say about Boone’s presser, but the rest of my thoughts relate to Cashman’s briefing. Without further ado, let’s get to it.

Aaron Boone needs to stop saying how close the Yankees are to winning a title.

This is grating. Boone said this in what seemed like a dozen different ways yesterday. Close? If this is close, then how do you describe the 2001 Yankees? Or the 2011 Rangers? Maybe make a World Series before you start saying that this team is close. Here’s how Boone’s seasons have ended since taking the helm:

  1. 2018: 100-62, Wild Card, Lost ALDS to Red Sox 3-1
  2. 2019: 103-59, Division Title, Lost ALCS to Astros 4-2
  3. 2020: 33-27, Wild Card, Lost ALDS to Rays 3-2

The “closest” Boone’s Yankees have gotten was a year ago. I don’t think there’s any other way to describe 2020 except as a step back for this group, unusual circumstances of this season notwithstanding.

End of season press conferences: Aaron Boone and Brian Cashman

The Yankees’ manager and general manager spoke in today’s annual end of season press conference. Below are some of the highlights from this afternoon’s media briefing.

Aaron Boone

  • We’ve grown accustomed to learning about offseason surgeries scheduled in the last couple of season recap press conferences. Not this year, thankfully. The manager said that there are no surgeries needed, to his knowledge.
  • Boone noted that there are no coaching staff changes anticipated. That said, Marcus Thames’s name has come up as a managerial candidate for Detroit. That could force the team’s hand.
  • The manager reiterated how close this team is to winning a World Series. He said it a few times in this presser, in fact. Frankly, this wears a bit thin. He’s been at the helm of two ALDS knockouts and an ALCS elimination. I’m not so sure that qualifies as close. Plus, the Yankees would have fallen short of the postseason had MLB not expanded the playoffs this season.
  • Is there a starting catcher controversy next year? Boone noted that he still has plenty of confidence in Gary Sánchez and that he liked his at bats toward the end of the season. The skipper also noted that Kyle Higashioka’s performance was the driving factor in the postseason lineup cards, not Gary.
  • Gleyber Torres’s defense at shortstop was not great this season. According to Boone, it’s consistently making the routine play that will make him a better defender.
  • As you might expect, a number of questions were about Game 2 against the Rays. But how much of that was Boone’s say? The key quote, I think: “I think that room understands that I’m writing out the lineup and I’m making those decisions.”

Thoughts after the Yankees fall to .500

Embed from Getty Images

How’s everyone feeling about the Yankees this season? Great, right? Yup, feels wonderful to be 21-21 after a 16-6 start. The Yankees are in the midst of as terrible of a run as I can recall, though I’m also spoiled as a person born in 1990. It’s hard to be optimistic about the current team turning things around, by the way. Here’s what’s on my mind now that the Yankees are barely hanging on to a playoff spot.

The Yankees may need to accelerate the returns of Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, and/or Gio Urshela. There are 18 games remaining and it’s increasingly likely that the Yankees only chance at a playoff spot is the 8th seed. There are still a ton of games left against Toronto, so I suppose the Yankees could still sneak into second place division spot (currently three games back), but it’s getting more difficult to imagine that working out. So, who would have thought the Yankees would have to hold off the Orioles, Mariners, and Tigers to make the playoffs this year?

Just incredible. And that brings me to the players on the injured list. I think Yankees (reasonably) assumed that the current roster would have no issues holding off these teams. That’s why we’ve seen patience in bringing back guys like Stanton (who’s way past his original timetable). But now we’re at the point where the team can’t be much more patient. The Yankees need the likes of Stanton, Judge, and Urshela back in this punchless lineup. This current roster *should* be able to maintain the 8th seed, but it’s officially too close for comfort.

Of course, there is the risk of aggravating an injury by bringing back a player too soon. We’ve already see that with Judge this season. That very well could happen again. That said, would you rather miss the playoffs without getting Stanton/Judge/Urshela back within the next week? Or would you rather miss the playoffs taking getting them back as soon as possible?

Mike Tauchman should not hit sixth. I really do not understand why Aaron Boone penciled in Tauchman sixth in the lineup last night. I get that there are a lot of guys not hitting in this lineup, but Tauchman looks terrible at the plate. Naturally, he came up in a couple of big spots yesterday.

The Yankees had Taijuan Walker on the ropes in the first inning. Tauchman came up with the bases full and two outs and worked the count to 3-1. Here’s what he did:

That’s an eminently hittable fastball in a fastball count. Tauchman could do nothing but hit a soft fly ball to left center.

He came up again with the bases loaded in the fifth. He lifted a sac fly to left for the Yankees’ only run of the game.

I’ll give him a little credit for going with that splitter away to left, but man, I would have rather had a more dangerous hitter up. Miguel Andújar, anyone? At least he’s shown some life of late.

Again, I just can’t fathom hitting Tauchman sixth. He has shown absolutely no power (.063 ISO) this season and constantly misses hittable fastball. He’s literally batting .000 on fastballs over the heart of the plate. It’s not like he’s been that unlucky either with a .192 xBA and .336 xSLG in that location.

Reaction to Brian Cashman’s team meeting. I gotta say, I didn’t love the idea of Cashman addressing the team before a JA Happ start. It’s preferable to do so with a better pitcher on the mound. But hey, credit to Happ for pitching well yesterday. The offense was yesterday’s letdown.

It sounds like Cashman struck the notes you’d expect him to. Per Cashman’s press conference, he emphasized his belief in the current roster and reminded them that everyone in the room was brought in for a reason. What else is he gonna say?

The GM also noted that there’s no help coming (duh). The trade deadline has passed and the Yankees stood pat. Similar to what he said a little over a week ago, Cashman noted that the prices were just too high and would have subtracted current big league contributors (i.e. Clint Frazier, Deivi García, and/or Clarke Schmidt). But even if he won’t admit it, I’m sure Cashman would like a mulligan. I can’t imagine all trade possibilities required one of the three mentioned above to be sent packing. We can’t know for sure, though.

In any event, talk is cheap and this roster just isn’t performing. A pep talk is nice and all, perhaps needed, but it can only do so much with the likes of Tauchman, Tyler Wade, Mike Ford, and Thairo Estrada needing to play so much. It’s not gonna snap Gary Sánchez, Gleyber Torres, or Brett Gardner out of their slumps.

I feel like I’m rambling a bit here, but I guess I’m just trying to reiterate the frustration about this team’s depth. We often point to the absence of Didi Gregorius this year, but let’s not forget that this team also had Cameron Maybin and Edwin Encarnación around last summer. Those are three big losses that Cashman did absolutely nothing to address. It’s great to have confidence in who’s on the roster already, but sheesh, it sure would have been nice to have a little more cushion. It’s too late the fix that now. Literally all Cashman can do is try to light a fire under the guys currently in the clubhouse.

On the future at catcher and following the Dodgers. There really are no excuses to make for Sánchez. He’s been atrocious at the plate and his defense has taken a step back. Save for a hot start last year, Gary’s been mired in offensive problems since 2018 and it’s concerning. His bat has always been his carrying tool, but it’s been a while since his incredible run from 2016-2017. Unsurprisingly, there’s plenty of clamoring to find someone new to replace him long-term. I’m sure the cries for impending free agent J.T. Realmuto will be loud this winter.

Don’t count on Realmuto coming aboard, though. We have heard his name come up in rumors with the Yankees over the years, even when Gary was playing well, but I don’t expect the Yankees to pay up after splurging on Gerrit Cole last winter. That said, I do expect the Yankees to bring in some catching insurance. I know the team likes Kyle Higashioka, but I think they need something more. It would behoove the team to have two starting-caliber catchers kind of like the Dodgers do (Will Smith and Austin Barnes). They more or less split duties and I think it allows the two of them to stay fresh all season. It’s not lost on me that there are not many starting-caliber catchers available, of course. Getting another is much easier said than done.

It just may not make sense for catchers to play, say, 120 or 130 games anymore. It’s too much on their legs. That’s why such a move might be good for Gary too, especially if he can rediscover his offensive ability and be useful at DH on days he doesn’t catch. Here’s what’s out there other than Realmuto in free agency:

  • Alex Avila
  • Jason Castro
  • Robinson Chirinos
  • Tyler Flowers
  • James McCann
  • Yadier Molina
  • Wilson Ramos
  • Austin Romine
  • Kurt Suzuki
  • Stephen Vogt
  • Mike Zunino

Not particularly exciting! But a lot of these guys are probably better than Higashioka and would be playable 3-4 days a week. Tyler Flowers and James McCann are first to mind for me, personally.

Now, as for Higgy: he’s out of options so the Yankees would risk losing him unless they carry three backstops. It’s a tricky situation, but something the Yankees should consider. They need a little bit more insurance behind Gary.

Game 42: There’s no help coming

Brian Cashman traveled with the team to Buffalo, an obvious sign of urgency coming from the front office’s top dog while the Yankees sputter. The problem? It’s literally too late for help, as Cashman said himself. Cashman met with the team before tonight’s game and reminded the team of his belief in them but that they have to get back on track “yesterday”. At this point, there’s no better time to get back on track tonight, I guess. Here are the lineups as the Yankees look to return to the win column:

New York Yankees (21-20)

  1. DJ LeMahieu, 3B
  2. Luke Voit, 1B
  3. Aaron Hicks, CF
  4. Clint Frazier, RF
  5. Gleyber Torres, SS
  6. Mike Tauchman, LF
  7. Gary Sánchez, C
  8. Miguel Andújar, DH
  9. Tyler Wade, 2B

LHP JA Happ

Toronto Blue Jays (23-18)

  1. Cavan Biggio, 2B
  2. Randal Grichuk, CF
  3. Rowdy Tellez, 1B
  4. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., DH
  5. Lourdes Gurriel Jr., LF
  6. Joe Panik, 3B
  7. Jonathan Davis, RF
  8. Danny Jansen, C
  9. Santiago Espinal, SS

RHP Taijuan Walker

News & Notes

  • Gary Sánchez is back in the lineup. Aaron Boone benched him the previous two games so Gary could get a reset of sorts. He’s hitting .130/.237/.350 (58 wRC+) with a 42.1 percent strikeout rate. Hopefully the short break helped.
  • Tonight’s home plate umpire is Brennan Miller, who you’ll recall from Aaron Boone’s “savages in the box rant” last year.

YES, WFAN, and WADO have the call of this game. First pitch is scheduled for 6:37 p.m. EDT. Enjoy the game.

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