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TWiYB – This week in Yankees baseball – Week 16

Another week, more losing for the Yankees who have not won a series since June 9-11. Think about that. It was Spring (according to the calendar) the last time the Yankees won a series. Forty days of losing. Ten straight series of losing (and tying; they split a couple of 4-game sets with the White Sox and Red Sox — yippee!).

With the exception of Houston, the Yankees lost to some bad teams. Oakland, currently sitting in the basement of the AL West, swept them. Texas, currently 4-games under .500, took 2 of 3 games. They dropped 4 of 6 to the below-.500 Angels and lost a series to Milwaukee even though the Brew Crew committed all of the errors (7, to be exact).

When the Yankees departed Boston after a long weekend of baseball on Sunday, I was actually optimistic. They outplayed the Red Sox for the majority of the 43-innings over 4 games. Had the 9th inning on Friday gone differently, the Yankees would have claimed their first and only series victory since demolishing Baltimore in early June. Regardless, they started the second half playing better baseball, but it was more of the same for the Yankees in Minnesota.

Check out last week in Yankees baseball if you want to relive Aaron Judge mania during All Star week.

Cashman making moves

Tuesday night’s Yankees game was an afterthought as rumors started swirling around 9:00pm that the Yankees and White Sox had a deal in the works. Here’s a full breakdown of the players who changed teams, but the Yankees received ex-Yank David Robertson, Todd Frazier, and Tommy Kahnle in exchange for blue-chip prospect Blake Rutherford, Ian Clarkin, and Tito Polo — and oh yeah, Tyler Clippard and his rex specs were shipped to Chicago as well which apparently for Yankees fans was icing on the cake.

The headliner going to the Sox was Rutherford. My gut reaction to seeing his name in the trade was disappointment, and not just because Rutherford was on our podcast back in January. Rutherford is a high price to pay for a rental bat and two bullpen arms, but when I took a minute to let the trade absorb, I realized makes sense for the Yankees.

Rutherford is going to be a great player. Scouts are high on him and many think his power will develop as he matures. We have to remember he’s only 20 though, and the Yankees tend to move prospects along slower than most teams. While Rutherford is currently a center fielder, he could move to a corner outfield spot, which as we know, the Yankees are flush with.

Blake was the Yankees number-3 overall prospect behind Gleyber Torres (who is number-2 in baseball) and Clint Frazier (who is already producing at the big league level). The Yankees are in a unique situation this season; they are good enough to compete for a playoff spot but not good enough to add one piece and become a World Series contender. It’s a tough spot for Cashman who has to weigh his options: continue to build for the future or “go for it” now. With this trade, he’s doing a bit of both.

Todd Frazier (I’m already annoyed we have to distinguish Fraziers) has regressed since earning back-to-back All Star honors in 2014 and ’15. In the year and a half since being traded to Chicago, Frazier has hit .220/.311/.454 and struck out 27% of the time. What this trade does allow the Yankees to do is use both Frazier and Chase Headley at corner infield spots, which believe it or not is a drastic improvement over the current first baseman the Yankees are trotting out. The fact that Frazier genuinely seems like a good clubhouse guy and grew up in New Jersey is a nice storyline, but won’t matter much if he continues to struggle at the plate. We did speak with White Sox reporter Scott Merkin, who said he believes Frazier will have a big second half in New York.

The Yankees bringing Robertson back to the Bronx is essentially what they did with Clippard last season. DRob is now an expensive 7th or 8th inning pitcher, but will allow them to save bullets in Dellin Betances’ arm and potentially use him in more creative situations.

Kahnle is the piece that makes this trade interesting for the Yankees. The righty has been a breakout pitcher for the White Sox, whiffing 60 batters in 36 innings. He’s also pre-arbitration eligible, which adds a cheap and controllable arm to the Yankees otherwise expensive bullpen. Without Kahnle, I don’t think Cashman pulls the trigger on this deal.

So, what does this trade mean for the Yankees?

It means Cashman believes the team can contend, but is not confident enough to trade for a Jose Quintana-like starting pitcher (yet). I realize Sonny Gray and Gerrit Cole are still out there, but it does not seem like Cashman is comfortable with the price for those starters. If he was, he would have probably made the move for Quintana, who like Gray and Cole would have cost the Yankees Rutherford plus Clint Frazier or Gleyber Torres. Instead he added bullpen and offensive help to the 2017 Yankees without sacrificing the near future.

Now batting for the Yankees … Number 77, Clint Frazier, Number 77

Whoooooole lot of jersey number talk this week. You’d think fans of a team that has been in a tailspin for a month and a half would care less about what numbers players are wearing, but that isn’t the case.

This week Clint Frazier changed his number from 30 to 77. Robertson wore No. 30 in his first stint with the Yankees and with the White Sox, and apparently he wanted it back when he came home to New York. Or did he?

Love it! DRob doesn’t strike me as a guy who asks for a jersey number. Someone clearly told Frazier that 30 was Robertson’s old number, and seeing an opportunity to get his hands on No. 77, Clint took it. There’s a few reasons why this is an interesting change for him. First, players don’t usually opt for offensive line-type numbers. No. 77 looks different on a baseball player, but as he said, Judge is changing that stigma. Secondly, there are those rumors from spring training when Suzyn Waldman said Frazier asked if teams “un-retire” numbers because he idolized Mickey Mantle, and wearing No. 7 would be an honor. Suzyn ended up apologizing for her comments, but it’s pretty clear now that Frazier probably said something along the lines of wishing he could wear No. 7, even if it was in jest.

The other number-related news was that the other Frazier — Todd — wanted his old No. 21. Any Yankee fan will tell you that 21 belongs to “The Warrior” Paul O’Neill, however the Yankees organization has not made that official by retiring it despite giving O’Neill a plaque in Monument Park. They only handed out 21 once since O’Neill retired (to LaTroy Hawkins in 2008 for god knows what reason). Todd was supposedly going to speak with O’Neill, who he idolized as a kid growing up in New Jersey. To that I say: Why?

It wouldn’t bother me if the Yankees gave 21 to a player, especially considering it isn’t retired. But Frazier is a 2-month rental, and barring some unforeseen second half events (i.e. big playoff moments), will probably not be remembered as a Yankee. Just wear No. 29 and go about your business (which as of Thursday night he is doing).

The Judge is human

It took until after the All Star break for us to realize, but it appears Aaron Judge is in fact human.

Amazingly, Judge did not slump for the entire first half. His pre-break OPS’s by month were as follows: April — 1.161, May — 1.084, June — 1.167, July — 1.152. If you prefer a more anecdotal approach, he was: Ridiculously good, freakin’ great, holy crap is he really this good?-good, and unbelievably awesome. After a slow first few games of the season his batting average steadily rose, and at no point dipped below .300 after reaching it towards the end of April. His BA peaked at .339 on June 16, settling at a gaudy .329 entering the break on July 9. But a 1-for-21 slide to start the second half had people taking notice because it was the first signs of adversity for Judge this season.

The slump could not have come at a worse time for Judge, who had moron fans screaming Home Run Derby hot takes his way. I refuse to believe that participating in the derby, essentially elongated and televised batting practice, ruined Judge’s swing to the point that he can’t get a hit anymore. He had a slump. Simple as that.

The narrative would be a bit different had Jackie Bradley Jr. not robbed Judge of a home run on Sunday night. If the ball left the yard, the 2-run shot would have brought the Yankees to within one run in the 8th inning and erased a lot of those off-balance swings over the weekend. Instead, it was a loud out and another 0-for in the box score.

You could see Judge getting his swing back with each at bat, and by Tuesday his stats finally reflected that: he went 2-for-4 and was on base three times. The beauty of Aaron Judge is that even when he isn’t hitting, he makes highlight plays to help the team win. The 97.7mph frozen rope to nab Dozier at home on Monday displayed that Judge is a complete player who isn’t letting a mini slump get into his head.

Big Mike, big deal

Before the second half could even officially start, the Yankees took another loss — or did they?

Michael Pineda was diagnosed with a partial tear of his UCL and had Tommy John surgery on Tuesday. He’s done for the season, and done as a New York Yankee. It sucks for Pineda, who like Nathan Eovaldi last year, was due to hit free agency this winter. I don’t wish injury upon anyone but the sad reality for Pineda is that the Yankees will not miss him.

If I had to describe Big Mike’s 4 seasons (really, it was only 4?) in pinstripes it would be: frustrating. He didn’t appear on the mound for the Yankees until two years after he was acquired thanks to injuries. Frustrating. He posted a mediocre 4.16 ERA over 509 innings, yet struck out 514 batters. Frustrating. He led the league in strike outs per nine innings last season, but also gave up 27 home runs. Frustrating. He went on a 9-game run this year where he posted a sub-1.00 WHIP and a 2.89 ERA, but followed it up with a 7-game stretch where he allowed 25 earned runs in 36 innings. Frustrating. He flailed his arms in disgust on the mound and got caught with pine tar on his neck. He had all the “stuff” in the world but no mental acumen. He was one of the most frustrating Yankees pitchers of my lifetime and I’m happy I never have to root for him again.

Back where it all started

Back to the west coast where the slide on June 13 began. Of all the American League west coast destinations — Oakland, Los Angeles, and Seattle — I have the most confidence in the Yankees playing well in Seattle. Does that mean they’ll finally win a series? No, but 4-games back where it all started is as good an opportunity as any to end this godforsaken series losing streak.

 

Follow me on Twitter: @Andrew_Rotondi

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