Yankees baseball is close to returning. With the Major League Baseball Players Association rejecting the owners’ proposal to delay the start of the season, which would have unnecessarily expanded the postseason field again, the season is scheduled to start on time. We are a couple of weeks away from baseball.
1. It seems like the season is going to start on time, and within the next two weeks, the Yankees will begin to arrive and start training in Tampa. Some Yankees are already there, the way there are every year, and batting practice videos of Luke Voit is about all the Yankees baseball action there is right now. With the start of spring training approaching, there are two major storylines this season that will be at the forefront from the first official day of spring training until the final game of 2021, whenever that may be.
2. The first being the health of the Yankees’ new-look rotation. When Jordan Montgomery, who is 52 innings removed from his 2018 Tommy John surgery, is your second healthiest starter, it’s not great. Here are the Yankees’ starters and the amount of innings thrown since the start of 2019:
Luis Severino (unavailable until midseason): Five starts and 20 1/3 innings since start of 2019
Corey Kluber: Eight starts and 36 2/3 innings since start of 2019
Jameson Taillon: Seven starts and 37 1/3 innings since start of 2019
Montgomery: 12 starts and 52 innings since start of 2019
Then there’s Deivi Garcia (seven career starts and 35 1/3 innings, including his “start” in Game 2 of the 2020 ALDS) and Clarke Schmidt (one career start and 6 1/3 innings).
3. If Kluber and Taillon both can’t stay healthy, it will be a disaster for Cashman and his team. It will be a horrible look for the luxury-tax champion Yankees, who will have passed on re-signing Masahiro Tanaka, instead choosing Cashman’s so-called “two-for-one” strategy by using the money for Tanaka to sign both Kluber and Taillon. A lot is riding on the health of a bunch of starting pitchers who have been anything but healthy for at least two years. And a lot if riding on a training and medical staff who has about the worst possible back-to-back seasons a training and medical staff could have to keep them healthy.
4. The second is Gary Sanchez. Sanchez’s entire season will be magnified and dissected. His spring training plate appearances will be live tweeted by beat writers and anything he does behind the plate that isn’t throwing the ball back to the pitcher will be reported. There has never been more pressure on Sanchez than there will be this season. There has never been more pressure for a regular-season position player Yankee in the Brian Cashman era.
5. Cashman apparently said the Yankees considered non-tendering Sanchez in December, which would have made him a free agent. There can’t be any truth to that. He would have been signed the second it was announced he had become a free agent. This has to be Cashman trying to motivate Sanchez, otherwise it’s time for a new front office. Kyle Higashioka is going to be 31 in April and isn’t a starting catcher and the Yankees have zero major-league-ready depth at the position. It’s why they signed 40-year-old Erik Kratz (who I love) last season.
“The fact that he’s still with us is proof of how we felt and how we feel,” Cashman said. “I know he’s looking forward to proving last year was a fluke. We look forward to him justifying our continued commitment to him and his talent level. We’ve invest our time, effort and money into him, for good reason.”
6. The only reason the Yankees would have non-tendered Sanchez would have been to stay under the luxury-tax threshold and not pay him the $6.35 million he will make in 2021. I’m honestly surprised penny-pinching Hal Steinbrenner didn’t instruct his front office to let Sanchez go because of that. Steinbrenner would rather pay Higashioka to hopefully hit some groundball singles through the hole on the left side of the infield than try to revitalize Sanchez’s historic production.
7. Hall of Fame catcher (and brief Yankee) Ivan Rodriguez was asked about Gary Sanchez at the Thurman Munson Awards, and a lot of what “Pudge” said I agree with.
“What the Yankees organization needs to do is just let him play baseball,” Rodriguez said. “He has tremendous ability, defensively and offensively. I know that he’s been struggling in both sides of the game, but I think right now it’s more mental.”
It’s nearly impossible to pin underperformance on being mental since no one knows what it’s like inside Sanchez’s head (other than opposing pitchers who know all he wants to do is pull the ball and any low-and-away breaking ball will get him to chase), but I agree Sanchez needs to be allowed to just play. Let him do whatever he was doing in 2016 and 2017 that got him to the majors and briefly made him the face of the future of the Yankees, resulting in him setting all-time home run records.
8. Sanchez needs to figure it out either offensively or defensively. If he can hit the way he did in 2016 and 2017 and to a lesser extent in 2019, then everyone can live with subpar defense and passed balls. If he can become great defensively and his offense takes a hit because of it, then OK, that’s what nearly every other team deals with at the position. But the Yankees need to stop interfering with his defense, stop trying to make him the perfect all-around player, and just let him play the game however he used to play it. If then, he still can’t put it together on at least one side of the ball, whether that be or offense or defense, so be it, and maybe it will be time to move on. Before it gets to the point of moving on, he needs to be given the chance to play how he wants and used to and not how coaches or catching instructors want.
9. This is it for Sanchez as a Yankee. If Cashman is telling the truth that the team considered moving on from him after 2020, then there’s no way they won’t if he doesn’t perform in 2021. The Yankees do have depth in the minors at the position, so it’s rather easy to envision him having another poor year and the Yankees cutting ties with him and letting Higashioka be the everyday catcher in 2022, or finding a one-year stopgap until Austin Wells or Anthony Seigler or Antonio Gomez or Josh Breaux emerge as the next everyday catcher (if one of them ever emerges). If Sanchez doesn’t revert back to his former self, or something close to it in 2021, that will be it. The Yankees will move on and he will likely sign with the Padres, grow facial hair and win the World Series in 2022, while hitting close to 40 regular-season home runs.
10. As President of the Gary Sanchez Fan Club, I believe in him. I truly think he will quiet his critics (who are now pretty much every other Yankees fan other than myself) this season and return to being the Yankees’ biggest advantage at any position in the lineup.
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