The Yankees have a double-header this afternoon after yesterday’s washout, and the team will make a handful of roster moves beforehand. A couple will be replacements for Luke Voit and Corey Kluber, who are headed to the injured list. Another will be the 27th man for today’s two games. In the meantime, here are some thoughts on where the Yankees go from here in light of yesterday’s news:
If not now for Chris Gittens, when? Yankees first baseman have hit .169/.272/.271 (69 wRC+) this season, which is fourth-worst in MLB. Here’s a breakdown:
Goodness gracious, that’s awful. We know that LeMahieu and Voit are better hitters than this indicates, but for whatever reason, LeMahieu has hit better playing elsewhere in the field (120 RC+) and now Voit is going to be out for a while. LeMahieu at first seems like the most likely scenario for now, with Rougned Odor playing second everyday, but why not give Chris Gittens a chance?
Gittens, 27, is hitting .323/.523/.774 (234 wRC+) with 4 homers in 44 plate appearances at Triple-A this season. He’s walked more than he’s struck out (12 to 8). He’s basically picked up from where he left off in 2019 when he won the Double-A Eastern League MVP award. That year, he hit .281/.393/.500 (164 wRC+) with 23 bombs in 478 trips to the plate.
The Yankees clearly like Gittens to some extent. After spending seven seasons in the organization, Gittens was a minor league free agent in the offseason and could have signed anywhere. The Yankees brought him back, though, and invited him to spring training for the second straight season. He must like the organization too, of course. Returning with Luke Voit and Giancarlo Stanton blocking him at first base and designated hitter made his path to the majors seem pretty narrow this season.
But now, Voit is going to be out for a while. Could be a couple of months, in fact. Why not give Gittens a shot at this point? This may be the only time there’s an opening for an extended run at first base for him with the big league club.
I don’t feel good about the alternatives to Gittens. Personally, I’ve seen enough of Ford. Late 2019 was fun, but he hasn’t done anything ever since. We already saw what happened with Bruce defensively at first base, which wasn’t his natural position, so what makes anyone think Andújar is up to the task? I’m not confident, even if his bat has potential to ease the pain of Voit’s absence. As for LeMahieu: he offers the team so much more as a second baseman. Not only does his bat profile better at the keystone, but he’s simply a better glove at that position. It’s not like Odor (.165/.267/.342, 74 wRC+) has earned everyday run at second, anyway.
Just bring Gittens up and give him a chance. He certainly could run up a 40 percent strikeout rate and look overmatched. That would stink! But again, the other options haven’t exactly instilled confidence. Gittens is a natural first baseman with ridiculous power (maxed out at 118 MPH exit velo in spring training, as you may recall). Would it shock anyone if he had a double-digit home run month in June?
Assorted thoughts on Kluber. I know all of us at this here blog were pretty excited about Kluber, even as he struggled in his first few starts. I took a victory lap after his no-hitter a week ago, in fact. With a 3.04 ERA and 3.56 FIP in 10 starts, it looked like the Yankees were getting a huge reward for taking a chance on the veteran who had missed most of 2019 and 2020. But now, the downside of this risk/reward signing has come to roost. Kluber will be out for about two months and will leave a pretty big void in the rotation.
This is now the second shoulder injury in two seasons for Kluber, which is obviously alarming for the 35 year-old. The wear and tear of being Cleveland’s horse may have finally caught up to him, unfortunately. I think it’s pretty clear that he can still pitch at a high level, but whether or not he can hold up seems doubtful. I’m trying to be optimistic about him returning later this year, but there will always be a lingering concern about his shoulder health.
So, here’s the optimistic take on Kluber: better to be injured now than suffer this in, say, September. Perhaps the righty can come back fresh in August and deliver a strong finish and carry that into the postseason. Again, I don’t have any doubts about his ability. I think he showed us he can still pitch. If he can just get back, he will be fresh for the final stretch and there won’t be concerns about overall workload. He and Gerrit Cole can still pair up and be a formidable duo in October.
Of course, the optimistic take requires just about everything to break right for the Klubot. Any setbacks during his recovery could be detrimental. He may need to work out the kinks with his command again upon return too, similar to what we saw for most of April. Hell, maybe his shoulder just might not be able to hold up again when he returns. All of these are valid concerns.
Now, as for Kluber’s replacement. Deivi García last pitched on May 22nd. He’s listed as Scranton’s probable pitcher tomorrow. Kluber’s next turn would have been Sunday the 30th, but I wonder if the Yankees simply call up Deivi to pitch tomorrow in Detroit. That would allow the Yankees to push everyone’s turn in the rotation back one day, which would be beneficial since the Yankees will need to reshuffle things thanks to today’s double-header. The team doesn’t have an off day until June 7th, mind you.
If not García, Michael King would be in line to take Kluber’s slot. He relieved Kluber on Tuesday and threw 54 pitches, so he’s fairly stretched out. I’d much rather see García than King, but those are the two main options.
Eventually, Luis Severino could fill Kluber’s void. There’s certainly a little added pressure on Sevy to return at full force once his rehab is complete now that Kluber is out of the picture (for now). Reportedly, Severino sat 95-97 MPH in a simulated game last week and is close to beginning a minor-league rehab assignment. A pitcher’s rehab assignment can last up to 30 days, so if all goes well, we could see Severino at some point in July. Cross your fingers.
I know everyone wants to rag on the Yankees’ training staff for injuries, but have you seen what’s happening with the rest of the league?
For those keeping score at home, through yesterday MLB IL placements are up 30% compared to 2019. This does NOT include COVID-IL placements. pic.twitter.com/0aJJddY8zi— Derek Rhoads (@drhoa3) May 27, 2021
Player health has been a nightmare this season, and the Yankees aren’t alone. Sure, you probably could have predicted something going awry for various Yankees. Kluber’s shoulder isn’t necessarily a huge surprise, nor was Giancarlo Stanton’s quad tightness. Ditto Aaron Hicks’s torn tendon sheath in his wrist.
My point, though, is that I wouldn’t be so quick to blame the Yankees’ training staff for some of the muscle and soft tissue injuries the team has suffered this season. This is nowhere close to what happened to the club in 2019, when the team was an extreme outlier in terms of maladies. This year, the Yankees are basically par for the course. There was an expectation of injuries this season given the huge increase in games year-over-year, so we should have been prepared for a few Yankees going down — even if they are the ones we could have seen coming.
To me, the bigger issue is not preparing for this in terms of depth, particularly in the infield. We saw the Tyler Wades and Thairo Estradas of the world get too much playing time last summer. Now, we’re seeing a lot of Wade again (and in fairness, he’s been a little better) along with far too much Mike Ford. And rather than getting higher-floor depth, the team hedged its bets on minor league deals that have been duds in Jay Bruce and Derek Dietrich. Then there’s Rougned Odor, who simply hasn’t hit. Ultimately, some of this is on the front office (or ownership, for not offering enough financial flexibility) to not have foreseen a rash of injuries coming again this season, even with the overhauled training staff.