Yankees Thoughts: Extend Aaron Judge and Upgrade Roster to Beat Astros

Yankees earn split against Astros with two Aaron Judge walk-off wins

The Yankees miraculously went 2-2 against the Astros in a four-game series in the Bronx. It took two late-game comebacks and two walk-off wins for the Yankees to avoid a disastrous sweep at the hands of the team that has eliminated them three times in their last six postseason appearances.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. The Yankees won two of the four games against the Astros, but it doesn’t feel like it. If not for the ninth-inning comeback on Thursday after getting no-hit for the previous seven innings, and the late-game comeback on Sunday after getting no-hit for the previous 6 1/3 innings, it would feel even worse. Thankfully, Aaron Judge is a Yankee (for now) and continues to have one of the best offensive seasons of all time, providing the Yankees with a walk-off single on Thursday and a walk-off, three-run home run on Sunday.

Judge “settled” in his arbitration case on Friday, though he essentially won. The Yankees met him halfway in their numbers at $19 million and gave him incentive bonuses that could be worth $500,000 more. So the complete value of his 2022 deal is closer to his filing number than the Yankees’.

The seven-year, $230 million extension offered prior to Opening Day was completely fair, and Judge was crazy to turn it down given his injury history and the likelihood of him having the type of season he’s having now. You have to be crazy to turn down nearly a quarter of a billion dollars given everything about his career to date, but he did, and at least through June 26, his enormous gamble is paying off. But he has a very long way to go. He has to stay healthy for the next three-plus months, which won’t be easy given his history. Fortunately, outside of last year’s debacle in which he needed time off after not traveling well despite the chartered planes and five-star hotels and amenities the Yankees are provided, he has avoided the injured list (where he lived from 2018 to 2020).

The Yankees need Judge for the immediate future. When healthy, he’s on the short list of the best players in baseball. The back end of Judge’s free-agent deal will most likely be extremely painful to watch. Every long-term position player deal ends up being one. You pay for the first few years of the deal, and deal with the last few years of it. For players like Mike Trout and Mookie Betts, their teams received a few years on the right side of 30 and more years of their prime in their extensions. The Yankees, whether through an extension or free agency, will be getting zero years of Judge’s 20s and less years of his prime. That’s why the Opening Day extension offer was fair.

The Yankees need Judge more than he needs them. There will always be some team and some owner looking to make a splash, like the Mariners did with Robinson Cano. The Yankees can easily give Judge the number he’s looking for and still be able to make ends meet. The bond holders Hal Steinbrenner likes to reference will still get their payments on time if the Yankees give Judge the highest average annual salary in the league.

The Yankees have to extend or re-sign Judge. Sure, he said he wouldn’t talk about an extension once the season started, but if the Yankees came to him with some over-the-top offer today, you bet your ass his fake preseason ultimatum will disappear. They have to re-sign him because there’s no alternative. Take Judge off the Yankees and where are they?

The Yankees’ window isn’t in four and five years when no one knows what Judge will be or how someone of his size and stature will age. Their window is now, when he’s at his peak and he and the rest of the Yankees’ core is still in their prime.

Maybe the Yankees’ plan is to let him hit free agency and see how the rest of the league values him, knowing they could (in theory) match any offer he receives. But once he becomes a free agent, the odds he signs with the Yankees drastically decrease.

I don’t care about what Judge will be in 2028. I care about what he will be in 2023, and that’s one of the best players in baseball who can help the Yankees win the World Series. That’s what the Yankees should care about as well.

2. Whether Judge is a Yankee in 2023 and beyond, to win the World Series in 2022 and beyond, the Yankees are going to need to solve the Astros. Going 2-2 against the Astros over the weekend is nice given how the poorly the Yankees’ offense was in all but like five innings in the four games.

On Thursday in the series opener, they got a three-run home run from Giancarlo Stanton in the first inning and then were no-hit until the ninth inning. On Friday, they scored one run on five hits. On Saturday, they were no-hit for the first time since 2003. On Sunday, they were no-hit for the first 6 1/3 innings. Here is how their hits by inning looks for the series:

2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 0 1 0 1 1 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 2 0 1

3. The “FUCK AL-TU-VE” chants at Jose Altuve and “CHEAT-ER” chants at Altuve and Alex Bregman aren’t working. I wish they were, but they aren’t. They’re not even close to working. If anything, it seems like they make those two even better.

Altuve reached base four times in the first game of the series, hit a home run in the Astros’ no-hitter win and then led off Sunday’s game with a home run. He hit .357/.526/.929 and reached base 10 of his 19 plate appearances in the series with four extra-base hits and four runs scored.

Bregman has had an atrocious season and entered the series with a .743 OPS. All he did at Yankee Stadium was hit .308/.500/.615, reaching base in eight of his 18 plate appearances with a pair of extra-base hits.

4. The Astros aren’t scared of the Yankees, and after going 0-3 on the road in the 2017 ALCS, admitting how intimidating the Stadium was, that no longer seems to be the case.

Why should the Astros be scared of the Yankees? They eliminated them in 2015, 2017 and 2019. They have reached the ALCS in five straight years and the World Series in three of the those five. No team should be scared of the Yankees. As an organization, they haven’t reached or won the World Series in going on 13 years. As a group, these Yankees have accomplished nothing. They have won a lot of regular-season games, set a bunch of home run records and are now trying to set a single-season wins record. None of that has or will mean anything once the second season starts. The Astros made that clear this weekend.

The Yankees should be scared of the Astros. As a fan, I am. The Yankees could win 125 games during the regular season and no fan could possibly feel comfortable or confident in a series against the Astros.

Framber Valdez no-hit the Yankees after a first-inning, three-run home run. Justin Verlander had his all-too-familiar dominating performance against them. Christian Javier no-hit them. Jose Urquidy, who has been a disappointment this season no-hit them for 6 1/3 innings. What happens when Lance McCullers Jr. (who absolutely owns them) comes back? What happens when they go out and acquire Frankie Montas or Luis Castillo at the trade deadline? And you know they’re adding someone or someones at the deadline. They always do. In 2017 it was Verlander. In 2018 it was Gerrit Cole. In 2019 it was Zack Greinke. In 2021, it was Kendall Graveman. The Astros are only going to get better.

I don’t know that the Yankees will get better. Ownership didn’t make a single move at the 2019 deadline for a team that went on to win 103 games and then had no starting pitching to get a through a seven-game series against … the Astros. They didn’t make a move at the 2020 deadline either. It’s not a given the Yankees are going to go out and upgrade ht roster pots they desperately need to upgrade.

5. I have always planned on having Jameson Taillon out of the rotation for the postseason and his tart on Thursday solidified my opinion. The Yankees are most likely to see the Red Sox, Rays or Blue Jays in the ALDS. While he has pitched well against the Rays and Blue Jays, I still wouldn’t trust him in a postseason games against those teams and in no way would i trust him against the Rafael Devers-J.D. Martinez-Xander Bogaerts Red Sox trio. Under no circumstance could he ever possibly start a playoff game against the Astros.

I have joked that Taillon is Phil Hughes 2.0. He short arms the ball like Hughes, he can’t put away hitters with two strikes like Hughes and he even kind of looks like Hughes. Sure, he limits walks like Hughes, but that’s the only truly good thing he does.

Entering his start on Thursday, Taillon had stranded the most runners in baseball. That’s called a recipe for disaster. Eventually, regression will hit and those runners will become runs. On Thursday, that regression happened.

Taillon allowed 11 baserunners in 5 2/3 innings and six of them scored. He gave up four doubles and two home runs and the Astros’ 1 through 5 in Altuve, Michael Brantley, Bregman, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker clobbered him, going 9-for-14 with all six of the Astros’ run and all six of their RBIs. It’s a good thing reigning batting champion Yuli Gurriel is still lost at the plate or the Astros’ vaunted 1 through5 would be their vaunted 1 through 6.

6. Aaron Hicks’ game-tying, three-run home run on Thursday night was one of the Top 4 moments of his career. The other three are his 2017 ALDS home run off Corey Kluber, his 2019 catch against the Twins and his 2019 ALCS home run off Verlander. That’s it. That’s the list. That home run saved Hicks from being in the next few thoughts with a trio of Yankees that have had very little to do with the team’s success this season.

7. Josh Donaldson had one hit in the series and struck out five more times in 12 plate appearances. The “Is he washed up or just slumping?” debate is leaning heavily in favored of washed up. The season is 45 precent complete. After next Tuesday’s game, the season will be half over. When exactly is he going to show up for this season?

Donaldson has played in 18 games in June and has struck out at least once in all but one of them. His at-bats aren’t even competitive. It’s not like he’ striking out after a lengthy seven- or eight-pitch battle. If he doesn’t ground out pop up on one of the first two pitches, he usually strikes out in three or four pitches. He has been absolutely horrible as a Yankee.

8. If Joey Gallo is wearing a Yankees uniform on August 2, Brian Cashman is truly an asshole, praying and hoping to salvage the smallest bit of positivity in a trade that was an abject failure. Gallo went 0-for-7 with four strikeouts against the Astros. He’s 0-for-his-last-17 now with 10 strikeouts. He last homered three weeks ago this Thursday. He last got a hit 10 days ago. He went from being the Yankees’ 2-hitter upon the trade for him lat year to becoming the team’s 9-hitter this year to becoming a platoon player to getting pinch hit for by the catcher two weeks ago to now being unplayable. the Yankees traded four prospects for a player who is healthy and just sat on the bench in two of their four biggest regular-season games of the year.

9. Are there still Isiah Kiner-Falefa fans out there? The homer-less Kiner-Falefa looked overmatched against the pitching staff of the team the Yankees need to overcome to win a championship, pitches and hits. Then on Sunday in the 10th inning with the automatic runner on, he booted a routine grounder to give the Astros two on with no one out in extra innings. At one point in the series, Kiner-Falefa went 0-for-4 on six pitches, as his goal continues to be to make a soft contact out as quickly as possible.

10. The Yankees are going to the postseason. The Astros are going to the postseason. They will be the 1 and 2 seeds in the American League postseason, and so they won’t be able to meet until the ALCS. If they do meet there for the third time in six years, the Yankees need to be better equipped than they currently are to play them in a seven-game series. Counting on frequent eighth- and ninth-inning comebacks would be like continuing to count on Donaldson, Gallo and Kiner-Falefa.

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