On Friday night, after cleaning up the last of the 61 toys sprawled out across the living room floor and scrubbing every nook and cranny of a high chair that takes a daily beating, I sat down on the couch to relax and join my wife for her nightly viewing of a Hallmark Christmas movie, which always seem to star Candace Cameron (who is forever cool). Then I remembered it was the deadline for 40-man roster decisions.
I wish I hadn’t remembered because all the news of the Yankees’ decisions did was ruin my Friday night. Not because I was upset with their decision to move on from Clint Frazier, Tyler Wade, Nick Nelson or Rougned Odor, but because of everything that had happened involving those four players up until they were no longer Yankees.
Odor was designated for assignment. Odor should have never been a Yankee, but the Yankees decided to go into a season with Aaron Hicks, Brett Gardner, Jay Bruce, Mike Tauchman and Mike Ford as their only left-handed hitters. Hicks lasted 32 games, Gardner found his way into 140 games with a .689 OPS, Bruce was so bad he retired two weeks into the season rather than get released when Luke Voit returned, Tauchman was traded before the end of April and the Yankees were so done with Ford they willingly traded him to the Rays.
The Yankees didn’t care that Odor has been a .202 hitter over his last 2,005 plate appearances. They didn’t care that the eventual 102-loss Rangers were fine with paying him $27 million to not play for them. Odor was a left-handed batter. Better yet, he would cost the Yankees nothing. Odor would be free and the only thing billionaire Hal Steinbrenner likes more than cheap players are free players.
Odor’s very presence on the Yankees represented everything wrong with the team under this Steinbrenner. Rather than put the best possible roster together to compete for a championship, the Yankees under this Steinbrenner have content with putting together a roster that will do enough to get by. It’s why the team has won the AL East once since 2012, why it has suffered wild-card and ALDS exits in three of the last four years and why the last time it even appeared in the World Series was 12 years ago.
With each three pitch-strikeout and 0-for-4, Michael Kay would opine on YES about Odor’s lack of production as if he was supposed to be Marcus Semien and not a guy with. a.234/.289/.433 career batting line.
“Odor hasn’t hit with the consistency that you’d expect” Kay said on May 27 with Odor batting .160/.269/.333 On June 4, Kay mentioned again that Odor wasn’t hitting to expectations and on July 20 called him “valuable.”
The only value Odor brought to the Yankees was his dugout enthusiasm and celebrations, something I would be happy to do for nothing to be part of the 26-man roster. The Yankees somehow never found a better option than Odor from April 6 (when they acquired him) through the end of the season, and with the season literally on the line in the wild-card game against the Red Sox, Odor even got two at-bats in the game, striking out on three pitches in his first one and being late on what became a lazy flyout in his second.
The Yankees got what they paid for in Odor: nothing, which is what a .202/.286/.379 batting line is worth.
Nelson was traded to the Phillies. It would seem impossible that one player or pitcher could appear in so few games in a season and have such a significant impact on the team’s success, or lack thereof. Nelson only appeared in 11 games for the 2021 Yankees, but he single-handedly lost them a handful of games.
On Opening Day (April 1), Nelson (who had no business being on the Opening Day roster after his 2020 in the majors), was called upon to start the 10th inning of a 2-2 games against the Blue Jays. A divisional game against the Yankees direct competition for the division. Two pitches into Nelson’s season, annual All-Animosity Team member Randal Grichuk doubled in the automatic runner from second. The Yankees went on to lose in what was a very early foreshadowing of the miserable season to come. (In the bottom of the 10th, Hicks struck out on three pitches in what ended up being the last competitive at-bat of the Yankees’ season, Giancarlo Stanton struck out on three pitches and Gleyber Torres struck out on five pitches. Three outs, all strikeouts, on 11 pitches.)
Eight days later, in the first meeting of the season with the Rays, the Yankees led 4-2 in Tampa in the bottom of the third before Corey Kluber ran out of gas the way a pitcher who had thrown 36 2/3 innings over the last two years would seemingly do after making his first start in a rotation in two years. Boone let Kluber allow a run and load the bases with one out before deciding Kluber wasn’t going to magically find “it” after needing 62 pitches to get seven outs. So in came Nelson with the bases loaded and one out and the Yankees clinging to a one-run lead.
Nelson fell behind on Joey Wendle with a first-pitch ball the same way he had to Grichuk on Opening Day. The next pitch was clobbered to left by Wendle for a two-run double, and the Rays took the lead. The next inning with it still a one-run game, Nelson put the game out of reach by allowing four runs on three hits, a walk and a hit by pitch.
One week later, the Rays were in the Bronx. After deciding Kluber and Jameson Taillon (who had combined to start 15 games in 2019 and 2020) would be all the starting pitching the Yankees would need to add for 2021, in the 13th game of 2021, they were without a starting pitcher for a divisional game against the Rays. (I really should have stopped watching the 2021 Yankees in April. We all should have.) So the Yankees gave the ball to Nelson to serve as an “opener.”
The only thing Nelson opened were the floodgates. After allowing six baserunners and four earned runs in 1 2/3 innings against the Rays the prior week, Nelson was somehow worse this time. He walked Austin Meadows to lead off the game and then threw his patented first-pitch ball to Randy Arozarena. The Rays had runners on second and third and no outs. Nelson got ahead of Brandon Lowe 0-2 before allowing a two-run double to right-center. Nelson was able to give the Yankees one inning of work, allowing four baserunners and two earned runs, needing 30 pitches to record three outs.
Five days later, on April 21, Nelson was somehow still a Yankee and Boone hadn’t seen enough. Trailing 1-0 in the fifth inning against the Braves, Boone went to Nelson with the bases loaded and one out. Nelson walked in a run on four pitches.
Four days after that, Nelson was still in the majors, “earning” a major-league salary, collecting major-league service time, getting a major-league meal stipend on the road and living the luxurious life as a New York Yankee. The Yankees were trying to right their 9-11 start to the season and had a chance to pull off a four-game sweep in Cleveland. Trailing 4-3 entering the bottom of the fifth (after Taillon was allowed to completely erase a 3-0 lead), Boone went to Nelson to hold the deficit at one run with the Yankees still having four innings of at-bats remaining. Nelson went two innings, allowed three earned runs on four hits and a walk and threw two wild pitches. The Yankee went on to lose and Nelson was finally sent down.
Nelson only had to go a month without living the good life. He was called on out of the Yankees’ bullpen on May 30 to throw two innings in the final game of the embarrassing three-game sweep at the hands of the Tigers in Detroit. Three days later, Nelson was asked to keep a four-run deficit to the Rays from growing any larger. After 44 pitches from Nelson, the Rays led by eight runs.
Nelson was sent down again and after putting 25 runners on base in 12 innings and allowing 14 earned runs, I thought that would be the end of him as a Yankee. I was wrong. Nelson throws hard, and even if he doesn’t know where it’s going, his velocity was apparently going to give him endless opportunities with the Yankees..
On July 7, 34 days after his last appearance, the Yankees were inexplicably going to use Nelson as an opener agin. An unbelievable decision in a season full of unbelievable decisions. Nelson didn’t even make it through the first inning. He hit a batter and walked three, including walking in a run. It took him 32 pitches to get two outs.
Two weeks later, on July 21, the Yankees used Asher Wojciechowski as their staring pitching and had Odor batting third, Gary Sanchez fourth, Torres fifth, Gardner sixth, Greg Allen seventh, Wade eighth and Estevan Florial ninth. It looked like a mid-March lineup in Dunedin. Instead it was the 94th game of the regular season, and this wild makeshift lineup had a 5-2 lead over the Phillies after seven innings.
Boone called on Zack Britton for the eighth and when it was evident he didn’t have it, Boone let him keep going. He let Britton load the bases with one out. And like he had done multiples times earlier in the season, Boone went to Nelson with the bases loaded. Three batters later, the game was tied after Nelson allowed a single, walked in a run and threw a wild pitch to make it 5-5. Miraculously, the Yankees would win in the 10th.
Nearly three weeks later, Nelson appeared in what would be his final game as a Yankee and went out in Nelson style: allowing a run, walking two and needing 26 pitches to get through a single inning of work.
In two seasons as a Yankee, Nelson appeared in 22 games and pitched to this line: 35 IP, 35 H, 29 R, 25 ER, 27 BB, 40 K, 4 HR, 6.43 ERA, 1.771 WHIP.
I’m not mad at Nelson. I don’t dislike Nelson. The same way I don’t dislike any of these players. He sucks, but he didn’t asked to be drafted in the fourth round, he didn’t offer himself a contact, he didn’t put himself on the roster and he didn’t put himself in high-leverage situations. He’s not to blame for all of those Yankees losses or for why the wild-card game was played in Boston or for why the Yankees’ division chances were over before the summer solstice even if it was his performance which had an enormous hand in it all.
Wade was designated for assignment. The Yankees desperately wanted Wade to be their Ben Zobrist. They kept telling us that for six-plus years. They wanted it so badly that for five years they allowed him to spend time on the roster, rolling over ground balls to the right side and running into outs on the bases the way one would when playing a video game after pressing the wrong button controlling the runner.
Wade hit .212/.298/.307 as a Yankee and the only two people who believed in him outside of his own family seemed to be John Sterling and Cashman. The first would praise him on the radio whenever he did something to help the team win (so maybe a handful of times a season) saying how great he could be if given a chance and the second unfortunately decides who gets to be a Yankee.
Wade eventually played every position other than pitcher, catcher and first base, and proved to be valuable defensively. But valuable defensive players grow on trees like hard-throwing right-handed relievers with no control (yes, like Nelson). Wade essentially stepping into the batter’s box without a bat 491 times was always going to hold him back from achieving everyday player status.
The Cashman defenders (who are hanging their hat on one championship in the last 21 years) and the Wade supporters (if such a group of people exist) will tell you Wade never got the everyday at-bats needed to be successful. No, he was never handed a job outright, but every single time an injury meant regular playing time and at-bats for Wade, he failed. Enough was enough long ago for most yankees fans. Enough wasn’t enough for the decision makers until Nov. 19, 2021.
Frazier was designated for assignment. The Yankees had a chance to acquire Gerrit Cole before the 2018 season, but they weren’t willing to part with Frazier. Cole went on to swing the 2019 ALCS with a Game 3 win over the Yankees the same way Cliff Lee did 11 years ago when Cashman wouldn’t part with Eduardo Nunez in a trade for Lee. Less than four years after not wanting to trade Nunez for Lee, the Yankees let Nunez go for nothing. Less than four years after not wanting to trade Frazier for Cole, the Yankees let Frazier go for nothing.
The fifth overall pick in the 2013 draft and headliner of the return the Yankees acquired for Andrew Miller back in 2016 is gone. For nothing. Not even a fringe minor leaguer. Not even a player to be named later. Not even cash considerations. Not even a bucket of balls. Nothing.
Sure, Frazier could go unclaimed (unlikely), and if not, he could be assigned to the minors and remain with the organization. But Frazier has the option to reject the assignment and become a free agent, which he would undoubtedly do. Why would he want to remain with an organization that has jerked him around for the last five years, especially one in which a path to becoming an everyday player is once again blocked? There’s a better chance Aaron Hicks doesn’t spend a day on the injured list in 2022 than there is that Frazier is a Yankee in 2022.
I really, really, really wanted Frazier to work out in New York. I thought he should have been the Yankees’ designated hitter over the combination of Chase Headley and Jacoby Ellsbury in the 2017 postseason (combined 7-for-39 with 13 strikeouts and three walks). His 2018 season was essentially lost to injuries. In 2019, he and his .806 OPS were passed over for Mike Tauchman. In 2020, he joined DJ LeMahieu and Luke Voit to carry the Yankees’ offense in the shortened season, while Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton didn’t play and while Gary Sanchez and Gleyber Torres might as well have not played, only to be screwed over by Aaron Boone in the playoffs as the Yankees manager started Brett Gardner over Frazier in five of the team’s seven playoff games.
2021 was supposed to be different. Frazier had emerged as an everyday player for the Yankees after his 2020 and Boone said as much on the first day of spring training, calling Frazier the team’s starting left fielder. A few days later, Gardner re-signed with the Yankees and in the third game of the season, Gardner was starting in left field.
Frazier’s poor performance from inconsistent playing time this past season coupled with another lost year due to unknown injuries led to his removal from the 40-man roster. Here’s to Frazier getting healthy and becoming an everyday star somewhere where he’s given an actual chance to play.
I’m not upset with the Yankees’ decisions involving the players from Friday’s deadline. I’m upset with the Yankees’ decisions involving those players during their time as Yankees.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!