by Howie Karpin, the NY Extra/thenyextra.com
The great Yogi Berra’s extensive library of memorable quotes includes one that may be appropriate for the Yankees’ situation. “When you come to a fork in the road, take it,” the great Yankee once said. The 2021 Yankees may be at that fork.
This Yankee team feels like they’re in “baseball quicksand” and are sinking into irrelevancy.
On June 15th, the Yankees are in fourth place in the AL East with a 33-32 record. They stand 8.5 games behind the first place Tampa Bay Rays, 6 games behind the second place Red Sox and a half game behind Toronto for third.
There are still 97 games to play. After watching the first 65, do you really feel confident that this team can turn things around?
Take into account that they can’t beat (except for Baltimore) the teams in their own division. They are 14-21 overall against AL East teams. Subtract the 6-4 mark against the Orioles, and the Yankees are 8-17 vs. Tampa, Boston and Toronto. There are still 41 divisional games to be played, starting tonight with three against the Jays in Buffalo. Toronto’s offense is raking and will be very difficult to slow down.
The Yankees don’t have a lot of leverage when it comes to improving the current squad. Who can they use for trade bait? They’re basically stuck with this roster which makes a turn around less likely. Aaron Boone’s hot seat is getting hotter. He shows no creativity with the lineup. That may or may not be his fault, but how can you bat Rougned Odor in the three hole on Sunday against the Phillies.
For argument’s sake, let’s say the Yankees don’t turn things around. This alarming trend of sub par baseball continues and they come to the realization that they are not a playoff team. It happened five years ago, but the circumstances are much different this time around.
On June 15th, 2016, the Yankees were in last place in the AL East with a 31-34 record, 6.5 games behind the first place Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox who were tied at 37-27. The roster featured a number of players who were past their primes. The starting lineup on opening day featured names like Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann. 27-year old Masahiro Tanaka was their best starting pitcher and C.C. Sabathia was 35 years old.
The hierarchy realized they weren’t a playoff team and began to formulate a plan to re-tool. The Yankees had some attractive trade chips and some legit prospects in the minors so maybe it was time.
Gary Sanchez was brought up in early August and dazzled the masses by hitting 20 home runs in 53 games. Rodriguez retired in mid-August, slugging prospect Aaron Judge was promoted and he homered in his first at-bat, fueling hopes for the future.
Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller were used in trades to benefit the future and the Yankees seemed to be well on their way to building a team that would contend for a championship for years to come.
The Yankees were on the right track and were even considered “ahead of schedule” when they made it all the way to the 7th game of the 2017 ALCS where they lost to the Astros. Since that time, the Yankees have made the playoffs three more times but are still without a World Series appearance since their last one in 2009.
If the season does go south for the Yankees, what will they do to be better in 2022. They’re not going to spend their way back to contention and their minor league system is not as deep as it was a few years back.
You can “sugar coat” Sanchez’ numbers by citing his hard hit percentage but he has regressed, both offensively and defensively, so the Yankees have a hole behind the plate. Kyle Higashioka is not the answer.
Gleyber Torres will not thrive at shortstop (I never thought he would be great at that spot but I thought they could win with him there but apparently I was wrong) so if you have to move him back to second, where does that leave D.J. LeMahieu. Do you use Torres as trade bait and sign one of the attractive free agent shortstops that will be available?
There are holes in the outfield and Aaron Hicks won’t return to save the day in 2022. Luis Severino had a major set back in his rehab while we still don’t know about Deivi Garcia.
A reliance on analytics has led the Yankees to become a team that has gotten away from being fundamentally sound. It’s not a lot of fun to watch a team that kills rallies every single game by hitting into double plays and runs the bases like they never played the game in their entire lives. The mistakes they continue to make are simply head scratching.
The Yankees need to rid themselves of this idea that their right handed hitters can reach the seats in right field, so they don’t really need to add left handed hitting. They need a better left handed presence because there are many right handed pitchers who would rather not face a left handed hitter, particularly in Yankee Stadium. Their lack of balance throughout the lineup has been a major contributor to this offensive malaise.
They need to add more speed and athleticism to the roster because the three teams ahead of them in the division blow them away in that regard.
The Yankees won’t be able to just snap their fingers or take out their checkbook to make changes, but, at the present time, this is not a playoff team. Suddenly, there is a lot of work to be done if they hope to be one in the future.