Yankees Thoughts: Rays Still Better, Like Brian Cashman Said

Yankees' team-wide issues on display all weekend in Tampa

The Yankees tried their best to get swept by the Rays, doing everything they could to lose all three games at Tropicana Field. They managed to eek out a win in the series finale on Sunday, which was a relief, but not satisfying. How could it be with all the issues this team has?

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. At the beginning of Mrs. Doubtfire, with his marriage falling apart, Robin Williams’ character tells Sally Field’s character, “Come on, Miranda. We’ve got problems, but who doesn’t? We could work them out.”

Field responds, “We’ve been trying to work them out for years.”

Williams answers, “Well, let’s take a vacation with the kids …”

Field rebuts, “Our problems would be waiting for us when we got back.”

When I think about the 2021 Yankees, I think about that dialogue. The 2021 Yankees are the same team from 2020. From the final out of the 2020 ALDS until Opening Day 2021, they went on the vacation Williams’ character suggested, and as Field’s character predicted, their problems were waiting for them when they got back.

The nearly six-month layoff that is the offseason didn’t fix the Yankees’ problems. It didn’t change the fact they brought back the same exact lineup that wasn’t good enough to get past the Rays last October. It’s nearly the same lineup that hit .214/.289/.383 in their six-game 2019 ALCS loss to Houston. It’s basically the same lineup that scored 10 runs in their four-game ALDS loss to Boston in 2018. It’s essentially the same lineup that scored three runs in four road games in their seven-game ALCS loss to Houston in 2017.

The break between 2020 and 2021 didn’t enhance the Yankees’ starting pitching. The Yankees chose to turn Masahiro Tanaka into Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon. Kluber looks nothing like his old self and has pitched 6 1/3 innings over two starts, while allowing 15 baserunners, and Taillon is being so overly protected by the Yankees that I can’t see them ever letting him go more than six innings, and even going six innings sounds like a pipe dream. The Yankees still have the same problem they had last year when it comes to their rotation and that’s never knowing what you’re going to get on days when Gerrit Cole doesn’t pitch.

These problems have been on display for nearly the entirety of the 2021 Yankees’ nine games and 85 innings. The Yankees’ four wins have been provided by a Jay Bruce two-run bloop single, a Jordan Montgomery gem, a Gerrit Cole gem and a Rougned Odor RBI bloop single. Without those two bloop singles, the Yankees might only have two wins right now. Thankfully, the Yankees were able to win on Sunday and salvage the third game of the series against the Rays, though it’s hard to be happy or in a good mood following the win because they did everything they could to lose the game and because the rest of the weekend was so bad.

2. At Brian Cashman’s end-of-the-season press conference last October, he openly said, “The Rays are a better franchise right now than we are.”

Well, they still are. The Yankees did nothing in the offseason to make themselves better, let alone make themselves better than the Rays. Maybe over 162 games the Yankees will have a better record than the Rays because they may fare better against other opponents, but head-to-head, the Rays are still better than the Yankees, and it’s not particularly close.

The Yankees were able to avoid Tyler Glasnow in this series, and they still only one won game, needing an Odor blooper to fall in in the 10th inning of the series finale. That’s not encouraging.

3. It’s nice that Odor provided the go-ahead hit in the 10th inning of his Yankees debut. But when it comes to Odor, the simple fact that he’s a Yankee is an embarrassment for the Yankees. Odor was unable to make the Rangers in spring training, a team that’s expected to finish in last place, and a team that owes him $27 million. That’s a lot of money. The entire Yankees infield of DJ LeMahieu ($15 million), Luke Voit ($4.7 million), Gio Urshela ($4.65 million) and Gleyber Torres ($4 million) will make $28.35 million in 2021. So the Rangers essentially owe Odor one season of the Yankees’ infield, and they would rather pay him to not play for them even though they have no expectations for this season. The Rangers are going to be very, very, very bad, and if they thought Odor could help them in even the slightest, at that amount of owed money, you bet your ass they would have kept him.

Since 2017, Odor is a .215/.279/.418 hitter, and statisically one of the worst everyday players in baseball over that time. The Yankees owe him nothing. Nothing as in $0. The Rangers are paying his entire salary, so in that sense, it’s like why not have Odor on the team? At least he can run into one every once in a while, which is more than you can say about Tyler Wade. That doesn’t change the fact the Yankees didn’t add a single left-handed bat this offseason or change the dynamic of their offense from being completely right-handed, so now they are forced to pick up players like Jay Bruce and Odor off the major league scrap heap and hope that maybe the magic of putting on the pinstripes will tempoarily rejuevanate their careers. Most likely it won’t, and they won’t get another job in baseball after their time with the Yankees like Kevin Youkilis, Travis Hafner, Brian Roberts, Richie Sexson, Kendrys Morales, Andruw Jones, Vernon Wells, Dustin Ackley, Ike Davis and many others, but that’s the hope.

4. The problem with having players like Bruce and Odor is Aaron Boone loves to divide the right-handed hitters in his lineup. If you were to play for the Yankees tomorrow and you’re left-handed, no matter your ability or skill level, you’re batting in the top two-thirds of the lineup, most likely sixth (since Aaron Hicks automatically bats third). So that’s where Odor found himself on Sunday.

Boone decided to break his lineup into thirds on Sunday, using left-handed hitters as the grocery sticks to separate them. Hicks would bat third and separate Aaron Judge (second) and Giancarlo Stanton (fourth), Odor would bat sixth and separate Gleyber Torres (fifth) and Gary Sanchez (seventh) and Brett Gardner would bat ninth and separate Gio Urshela (eighth) and DJ LeMahieu (first). So Odor who wasn’t good enough to be a Ranger, appearing in his first real baseball game of 2021 was immediately inserted as the 6-hitter on the Yankees, one spot ahead of Gary Sanchez and two spots ahead of Gio Urshela. This came a week after Boone batted Bruce fifth, the same Bruce who was moments away form either opting out of his contract with the Yankees or being cut by them before Voit tore his meniscus. Boone’s lineups rarely ever make sense. The lineups this season have made no sense at all.

Boone clearly builds his lineup based on favoritism. It takes Sanchez months of otherworldly production to move up in the lineup and less than a week to move down. It took Torres two years and two All-Star appearancees to move out of the bottom third of the order. Frazier opened the season as the No. 9 hitter behind Bruce. Meanwhile, Hicks is cemented into the 3-hole, and is always in the top third, and he along with Judge and Stanton never get benched for underachieving.

5. That’s mainly because Hicks continues to bat third. Hicks gets treated as if he’s Bernie Williams. The difference is Williams was a career .297/.381/.477 hitter who hit 287 home runs, a postseason legend, the heart of the order for four championship teams and a borderline Hall of Famer. That’s Williams’ number 51 in Monument Park. Hicks is a career .234/.331/.400 hitter, who has hit 89 career home runs, has been a postseason disaster and is being forced into the heart of the Yankees order because he has collectively had one good season in his nine-year career. (I don’t mean one good season out of his nine, I mean parts of a few seasons, totaling the amount of one season.) The closest Hicks will ever get to Monument Park is by playing on the other side of the wall from it like he does each home game.

Hicks isn’t good. He has moments where he is, but any player given the amount of plate appearances and chances Hicks has been given in the middle of the Yankees order will do something productive once in a while. Even Chase Headley would do something every once in a while because he played every single day.

I don’t hate Hicks. I hate how Boone uses Hicks, trying to make him something he’s not. If Hicks batted seventh or eighth or ninth (ninth is where he should be), I would have no problem with the way he’s used and would rarely even need to comment on his performance. As long as he were to stay healthy (which is his biggest challenge) and play good defense, his offense wouldn’t matter, like any 9-hitter. When you bat third, especially for the Yankees, everything you do in the batter’s box is magnified and Hicks has done close to nothing in the batter’s box as the No. 3 hitter.

6. When Scumbag Domingo German was sent down after his awful performance in the second game of the series, I thought the Yankees had finally come to their senses that German is not a good pitcher, just like he isn’t a good person. In his stars, he has pitched seven total innings, allowing seven earned runs, four home runs and 14 baserunners. Remember when his nine scoreless spring training innings were being praised? It’s almost as if meaningless games in March against mostly minor league players don’t mean anything.

The Yankees didn’t come to their senses. Boone said before Sunday’s game that German would most likely be called up the next time the Yankees need a fifth starter. How is he the first option? Unless Deivi Garcia is hurt and we don’t know about it (which you can never count out when it comes to the Yankees) then he needs to be called up the next time the Yankees need a fifth starter. German has already cost the Yankees two games this season. Two more than he should have ever been allowed to.

It’s a disgrace the Yankees kept him on the team following his actions and stuck by him through his suspension, but they can finally rid themselves of him and not lose anymore games because of him. Letting him start another game for the organization is unfathomable.

7. If Kluber is going to get injured, he’s going to get injured. There’s no preventing him from injury, and even if there were, the Yankees would be the last team in the world to know how to do so. Kluber needs to pitch. He needs to pitch as much as possible because it’s the only way he will ever come close to resembling the pitcher he once was. And at $11 million and as the No. 2 starter entering the season, the Yankees better start letting him pitch.

The same goes for Taillon. Yes, he had two Tommy John surgeries. There’s no way to prevent him from needing a third or suffering some other injury. Pitchers get hurt. That’s what they do. Throwing a baseball overhand isn’t a natural motion, and repeatedly doing it at high velocities and torquing your elbow to make the baseball spin in different ways will never end well. Right now, Taillon is healthy. As healthy as he’s been since 2018. He needs to pitch. There doesn’t need to be some unproven slow progression of a pitch count to keep him healthy or an unproven innings limit to keep him from further injury. The Yankees can get four innings from two of their starters each time through the rotation and destroy their bullpen. Especially when their fifth starter (Scumbag German) only gave them seven inings over two starts and when you don’t know what you’re going to get from start to start from Montgomery.

8. At Boone’s press conference to open spring training, he was asked if he sees Clint Frazier at the team’s starting left fielder. Here’s what Boone said:

“I do. Clint has obviously come a long way in every aspect of his game and certainly earned his place last year when obviously nothing was given to him. He had to earn everything really the last couple of years … Last year really proved he was ready to grab an everyday role on this team.”

I never believed Boone. The last time the Yankees had played (2020 postseason), Frazier wasn’t the team’s starting left fielder. Despite posting a .905 OPS, single-handedly carrying the offense when Judge and Stanton once again missed extended time and when Sanchez and Torres couldn’t hit, and improving his defense to the point he was named a Gold Glove finalist, Frazier rode the bench for both games against Cleveland and the last three games of the ALDS against Tampa Bay. Of the Yankees seven playoff games, Frazier started two of them as Boone started and played Gardner over him. So Frazier “proved he was ready to grab an everyday role with the team” so well last year that he wasn’t an everyday player in the postseason.

The last time the Yankees played Frazier wasn’t the team’s starting left fielder, so how did he suddenly earn the job during the offseason? Were there real, meaningful games over the last four months no one is aware of?

9. The second Gardner re-signed with the team I knew Frazier was screwed. I never believed Frazier would actually be the team’s “everyday” left fielder in 2021. He might play at that position more than any other Yankee this season, not because he’s cemented as the “everyday” player for that position, rather because of injuries. When the Yankees’ outfield is completely healthy like they currently are (since Judge is back playing), Boone will continue to inexplicably sit Frazier play Gardner. He did it in the 2020 postseason, so why wouldn’t he do it again in the 2021 regular season? Nothing has changed since then.

Gardner played over Frazier the last two days, and that trend isn’t going to end. Boone wants Gardner to be his left fielder and any time Gardner does something like make a great catcher or sneak a double in down the line, it’s going to get him more of Frazier’s playing time.

10. The Yankees are 2-4 against the Blue Jays and Rays. They can’t play the Orioles and Red Sox every day, and right now they wouldn’t even want to play the Red Sox. The Yankees now play the Blue Jays (3), Rays again (3) and Braves (8) over the next 10 days. Three difficult opponents, all with postseason aspirations.

I don’t expect the Yankees to change who they are or fix the issues that have hindered them this season and the three previous seasons since they aren’t issues that can be fixed and their roster is what it is for now until Voit and Luis Severino return. I thought maybe this season would be different and the team wouldn’t start off the year in such a discouraging way and hover around .500 for more of April. I was wrong, and I’m mad at myself for thinking 2021 would be different when the team is the same as it was the last four years.

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