The Hot Stove League won’t kick off for another three weeks or so, although as a Yankees fan you’re used to some down time.
The good news? It’s never too early to vent about the Yankees’ shortcomings. For many, this actually constitutes a year-round passion. It peaks now with the 2020 Yankees no longer able to impact the discussion on the field.
Certain Yankees talking points emerge organically and dominate or even define an offseason, influencing transactions or the reaction to them. Some (“Hal Steinbrenner never should have paid that much for Jacoby Ellsbury!”) prove quite savvy, others (“Hal Steinbrenner never will pay that much for Gerrit Cole!”) less so.
So let’s address four major talking points hovering over this franchise, focusing on four individuals, as it tries to end what is now an 11-year title drought (that’s 74 years in Mets time). In honor of the late Eddie Van Halen and his song “Back to School,” we’ll give each one a letter grade for its validity.
1. “Aaron Boone is not a championship manager!” This rallied late to claim the top spot thanks to a bad American League Division Series by the skipper. Even Yankees special adviser CC Sabathia questioned some of his former manager’s moves on his podcast, “R2C2,” which, to quote Boone’s predecessor Joe Girardi, is not what you want.
I didn’t mind going to Aroldis Chapman in the seventh inning of Game 5. A loser-goes-home game is no time to be conservative and relievers know they’ll work more in the playoffs. Mike Ford pinch-hitting in Game 5? Didn’t love it, yet no great options existed there.
No, this still is primarily about the Game 2 debacle. After Game 5, asked once more (and it won’t be the last time) whether he regretted deploying Deivi Garcia as an opener and then turning to J.A. Happ, Boone said, “I’m sure there’ll be people that take it to, if we just started a guy and went with him, we win the game. I mean, that’s kind of ridiculous.”
That is ridiculous. What isn’t ridiculous is suggesting that a more traditional strategy would have increased the Yankees’ chances of winning the game and the series. Furthermore, while the front office obviously participated in the discussions to land on that strategy, it fell upon Boone to get buy-in from the players. And Happ clearly didn’t buy in.
The Yankees appear certain to exercise their 2021 team option for Boone, who did very good work in 2018 and 2019 and helped keep the team coronavirus-free once the 2020 season began. No need to extend him beyond that for now. He must prove that no damage lingers from Game 2 — that none of his current players hold onto Sabathia’s opinion — and, assuming optimistically that our country will be in better shape, produce a more steady campaign than this past one. Especially the landing.
2. “Enough already of Gary Sanchez!” He is the human Whac-A-Mole. Every time you think you’ve solved one problem with Sanchez, another one emerges. This season, none of the moles got whacked sufficiently, as the 27-year-old delivered an altogether miserable performance.
If he goes somewhere else via a sell-low trade or non-tender and rises back up to his 2016-17 level, the Yankees should kick themselves. They should kick themselves even harder if they hold onto him and he doesn’t change from the high-exit-velocity, low-results, high-agita liability that he is now.
3. “Get Gleyber Torres out of shortstop!” What if the Yankees hadn’t turned off the spigot after the Cole signing and given Didi Gregorius the one-year, $14 million contract he took from the Phillies? Getting all of the infielders reps wouldn’t have been a problem thanks to Giancarlo Stanton’s annual injury opening up the designated hitter slot. Gregorius bounced back from his 2019 downslide with a very nice year, on both sides of the ball, for Girardi in Philadelphia. Torres, meanwhile, called his position into question with unsteady play; his nine errors in 40 games marked a worse ratio than his 11 miscues in 77 games at shortstop in ’19.
If the Yankees want to point to the small sample as well as Torres’ age (he turns 24 in December) as reasons not to cancel this culture, well, I’ll be skeptical. In fairness, I get paid to be skeptical:
4. “Aroldis Chapman can’t be our closer!” Allowing back-to-back season-ending homers will tag this label on a fella. Let’s break it down, however: He has a 1.71 ERA in 17 postseason appearances as a Yankee, with six saves in six opportunities and 37 strikeouts and eight walks in 21 innings. Those two homers, while extremely ill-timed, are the only ones he has allowed.
No, he remains elite and more than capable of closing out a championship. He could use some more help beyond Zack Britton and Chad Green, though, so that Boone need not turn to him so early. And that’s not Chapman’s job.