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Yankees’ postseason postmortem

It’s time for the Yankees’ postseason postmortem. My ruminations began on a Wednesday, not yet caffeinated morning state-of-mind, less than 12 hours since the Yankees’ hopes of a 28th World Championship ended with a resounding thud in a 4-3 loss to the Boston Red Sox and elimination in the Division Series.

During Tuesday’s night’s Game 4, some Yankees fans quickly turned rabid in calling for manager Aaron Boone’s firing, to never have to watch CC Sabathia pitch again, and mercilessly booing first-year Yankee/longtime MLBer Giancarlo Stanton.

In some respects, you can’t blame those fans. Stanton had a roller-coaster season and failed in some big spots in Game 4. It didn’t help that the Yankees played so poorly in Game 3, either. But, for the most part, what I’m hearing is a lot more irrational anger rather than disappointment. There’s no reason to burn the house down.

And, Stanton is certainly not being traded. It takes a lot of adjustments for a veteran player who is a first-year Yankee. Stanton will be better next year.

– “Fire Boone”: While Boone did a less than stellar job in the Division Series, (leaving Sevy in too long in Game 3, Game 4’s lineup choices, etc.) he still led the team to 100 wins during the regular season and a one-game elimination Wild Card victory.

Back in George’s day, there’s a 90 percent chance Boone would have been fired. But, management is much more rational these days. Boone has two more years guaranteed with an option for 2021. He’s not going anywhere. Nor should he.

That being said, Boone should be forced to hire a former manager or an experienced bench coach to help him out –  his own Don Zimmer, if you will. Sorry, Josh Bard.

– “We should be bullpenning”: Besides the fact that I hate the word “bullpenning” and its immediate overuse by broadcasters, especially those doing national game commentating, bullpenning won’t win championships. It’s MLB’s version of the NFL’s run-and-shoot offense. It looks like fun, but  isn’t very effective in the long haul.

The best teams in baseball got to where they are by having good to great starting pitching and good to great relievers. Tampa Bay popularized the trend because, outside of Blake Snell, they don’t have any reliable starters. And, they got red hot in the second half of the season, finishing with 90 wins.

But, you can bet Rays’ manager Kevin Cash would rather have a rotation that resembled the Rays’ combo a half-dozen years ago of James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, and Alex Cobb.

– “Judge made a mistake…”:  A former Yankee, no longer affiliated with the team, said Aaron Judge made a mistake by playing “New York, New York” on his boombox as he departed Fenway Park after Game 2. This is one of the silliest purported reasons for the Red Sox winning.

The Red Sox didn’t require any additional motivation to win the Division Series. They amassed 108 wins in the regular season with the AL MVP (Mookie Betts), the guy that will finish second to Betts (J.D. Martinez), one of the brightest young stars in the game (Andrew Benintendi), arguably the best center fielder in baseball (Jackie Bradley Jr.), one of the best shortstops (Xander Bogaerts), solid starting pitching, and one of the best closers in the game (Craig Kimbrel).

And, having Alex Cora at the helm is certainly a plus.

Yankees postseason postmortem: The Team

The Positives

Before looking into what needs to be done for next season, here are the positives that occurred during the 2018 season:

Aaron Judge continued his emergence as one of the game’s top stars. He improved in a number of ways and has become one of the team’s leaders. He followed up his rookie 1.049 OPS with an excellent .919 OPS. That included a .528 slugging pct.

It’s unfortunate that he missed more than a month with a broken wrist. It would have been interesting to see how his numbers would have looked in a full sophomore season.

Didi Gregorius built off of last season to become one of the game’s best all-around shortstops. He topped 20 home runs for the third straight season and hit 25 or more in back-to-back seasons. That’s something no other Yankees shortstop has ever accomplished. He also played in the postseason with damaged cartilage in his right wrist.

Luis Severino put together a dominant first half and was one of the top five starters in baseball. Now, he needs to build off of that for an entire year.

Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres debuted and quickly became two of the best all-around prospects the Yankees have ever had. Torres appeared to be a lock for rookie of the year, but he scuffled a bit after an injury and Andujar went on an incredible tear. The first-year third baseman broke Joe DiMaggio’s rookie record for doubles in a season.

“Andu” should win the Rookie of the Year Award over Shohei Ohtani (will the BBWA decide that players from Japan aren’t really rookies as they did with Hideki Matsui or treat him as other first-year players?), the latter one having a barrage of media attention all year.

Aaron Hicks became the player his original organization (Twins) and the Yankees hoped he would be. Hicks developed into a smooth defensive presence in center field, topped 20 home runs, and posted an .833 OPS.

– The surprise of the year was Shane Spencer 2.0, also known as Luke Voit. The “who is this guy?” acquisition from St. Louis paid off big time. After an initial bout of “can’t hit for bleep”, Voit became a September hero.

Voit became an instant New York legend after he hit 14 home runs and drove in 33 runs in just 132 at-bats, and posted an impressive .333/.405/.689 slash line.

– The bullpen started slowly but dominated for most of the season.

It’s so hard to say goodbye…

And, now to get down to business.

Parting with loyal, hard-working, give-it-their-all players is extremely difficult to do from an emotional standpoint.  That being said, it’s time to part company with Sabathia and Brett Gardner.

We all love Sabathia. He’s been a warrior in his career and with the Yankees, and he wants to keep pitching in the Bronx. Without Sabathia, the Yankees don’t win the 2009 World Series. Throughout his career, he’s the guy who always wanted the baseball. He stressed his prized left arm past its limit.

But, his knees are shot, he can’t cover first base, and he doesn’t succeed if his pitches aren’t perfect.

“Gardy” has given every ounce of blood, sweat, and tears for his team. But, as the group Blood, Sweat and Tears once sang, “What goes up must come down”, and Gardy’s career is in a downward spiral.

He still plays every game like it’s his last but his OPS has gone down every year, except in 2017. He neared rock bottom with a .690 OPS this season and sat for much of late September in favor of Andrew McCutchen. If not for a hamstring injury to Hicks, he might not have made a postseason appearance.

Barring some unusual occurrence, the Yankees will exercise the $2.5M buyout in Gardner’s contract.

Who’s not so hard to say goodbye to? Lance Lynn and Neil Walker.

Pitchers wanted, inquire within

The Yankees’ starting pitching is the main reason the team struggled in the second half and were dispatched quickly in the playoffs. Here’s a look at the 2019 rotation:

Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, um…

The Yankees need to fill three spots. It’s a given that one of them won’t be taken by Sonny Gray. Speaking of “New York, New York”, he’s not gonna make it there. Gray was decent in his 11 starts in 2017, with his numbers skewed by two blowups in September.

The recently concluded season was another matter. Outside of some starts against the Orioles, Gray thoroughly embarrassed himself and has to go. And no, Gray won’t be hard to say goodbye to either.

Jordan Montgomery underwent Tommy John surgery this past June and will miss most, if not all, of the 2019 season.

Lynn impressed in a few starts but then want back to the mess that he was in Minnesota. No reason to resign him.

J.A. Happ gave the Yankees exactly what they needed in the regular season. Unfortunately, he imploded in Game 1 of the ALDS, after having his way with Boston in prior starts. Cashman has already indicated he would like to resign the veteran left-hander if the terms are all right. This would be a positive move.

The Yankees are going to have to turn to trades and/or free agents to fully strengthen their rotation. Top prospect Justus Sheffield is still a big question mark. There are some that feel he may not be anything more than a back-end of the rotation starter. Or, perhaps not a starter at all, but a lefty weapon out of the pen.

The Free Agent Market

The Yankees have kept their eyes on Arizona Diamondback starter (and longtime Yankees fan) Patrick Corbin all year long.

The left-hander, who turns 30 next July, is a free agent after six seasons in the desert. His timing is perfect as he’s coming off his best season.

Corbin averaged a career-high 11 K/9 IP over the 200 innings he tossed in 2018.  He allowed a mere 7.3 hits/9 IP and walked 2.2 batters/9 IP. The two factors combined for a career-best 1.052 WHIP.

Corbin also kept the ball in the yard, having only allowed 15 home runs on the season.

Concern: My personal built-in bias against pitchers who made their bones in the National League. Carl Pavano, Javier Vazquez, et al did that to me.

The Astros duo of lefty Dallas Keuchel and righty Charlie Morton are also free agents.

Keuchel’s effectiveness and consistency have diminished since he won the AL Cy Young Award in 2015. He gave up better than a hit per inning this season, the second of his career in which he reached 200 innings pitched.

Morton was a mediocre pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but the Astros transformed the soon-to-be 35-year old after he signed a two-year, $14 million free agent deal prior to the 2017 season. He threw back-to-back seasons with 10+ K/9 IP and a WHIP of under 1.200.

With the Astros’ top prospect Forrest Whitley poised to join the rotation, it’s unlikely that Houston would sign more than one of their free agent hurlers.

You can’t look at either pitcher’s success without giving a lot of credit to the Astros’ defense. Second baseman Jose Altuve and Keuchel each won a Gold Glove Award.

And though they haven’t won the hardware, infielders Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman, outfielder George Springer, and the catching tandem of Brian McCann and Max Stassi are an outstanding group, some of whom are going to get even better.

The Yankees defense’ has been shaky and that has to be taken into consideration when trying to sign or acquire any pitcher.

I would stay away from Matt Harvey. He’s like Oliver Douglas – New York is not where he’d rather stay. A cheap alternative, especially if Happ leaves, could be the Dodgers’ lefty, Hyun-Jin Ryu.

It’s too early to really get into the trade market but here are a couple of thoughts: The Giants’ Madison Bumgarner will probably be available at the non-waiver deadline next summer, but not before it. Up to this point, that is not how the Giants have operated.

There have been some early Zack Greinke rumors, but he has three years and about $105M coming to him from the Diamondbacks. Forget it.

Field of Screams

The Yankees offense from 3/4 of their infield was above and beyond what was expected. Except for a month in which I suspect he was injured, Gregorius was one of the top hitting shortstops in the league.

The infield defense was another matter. Torres started out looking good in his transition from shortstop to second base but ended up with 12 errors. He added another five while filling in for Gregorius at shortstop. Fangraphs ranked him as the 16th-best defensive second baseman in the Major Leagues.

Andujar fared worse at the hot corner. He committed 15 (primarily throwing) errors and earned a rank of #19 by Fangraphs.

First base was supposed to be a Bird of different color. This was the year Greg Bird would finally have the breakout season that the Bronx Bombers have been waiting for. He did his part with his glove, but injuries continued to plague him and his bat didn’t produce positive results.

While Voit crushed the baseball, he had too small of a sample to give his defense a proper rating. However, it wasn’t anything that stood out.

Cashman will have a lot of thinking to do over the winter about the position. Is Voit the real deal? Has he had enough of Bird? Right now, it’s anyone’s guess.

Catching On

Speaking of poor defense, the Gary Sanchez “reign of error” continued. Sanchez whiffed on 18 pitches for passed balls. It’s an inexcusable problem but one that can and must be fixed. There are plenty of fans that want to give up on Sanchez but that would be a huge mistake.

“The Kraken” showed signs of his old self both offensively and defensively in the postseason. The Yankees need him back next year, hitting dingers like he did the previous two years and also showing the defensive skills he had shown in the past. It’s either that or you teach him first base and he DH’s as well.

Austin Romine gets an A+ for his work and will be the backup catcher (and maybe late inning defensive replacement) once again.

Cashman, don’t fall in love.

This has nothing to do with Brian Cashman’s love life. It totally has to do with Cash’s tendency to fall in love with a player who puts together one good month for the team.

He then signs said player to a one or two-year deal and they tend to flop. Ichiro Suzuki and Chase Headley (who got way more on his deal) quickly come to mind.

The Yankees should not, under any circumstances, bring back McCutchen. He’s another great guy and a great clubhouse guy whose best days are behind him.

“Cutch’s” offensive numbers improved greatly after his acquisition from the Giants, but it was mostly based on the 22 walks he drew in 25 games. The 32-year old doesn’t have the bat speed anymore to put up favorable numbers in a ballpark that’s not favorable to right-handed hitters.

The Bullpen

Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances will be back out there next year. Chad Green and Jonathan Holder too. Then things get interesting…

David Robertson is a free agent who the Yankees will probably let walk for the second time. He’s not the consistent and reliable pitcher he once was, even in comparison to 2017. Another tough goodbye, but a necessary one.

Zach Britton loves being a Yankee, but he’s going to want a multi-year deal and likely wants to close again. He’s certainly not going to be signed by the Yankees to the (my best guestimate) minimum three-year, $18M deal that he will want.

The Yankees want Stephen Tarpley to come to spring training and win a lefty spot in the pen, something which he has an excellent shot of doing. And, there is still the matter of whether Tommy Kahnle can regain his effectiveness.

MLB Free Agent Market

I had a twitter discussion with WFAN’s Ernie Acosta Wednesday morning.

He’s big on bringing in Daniel Murphy to split time at first base with Greg Bird. Right off the bat, it didn’t make sense to me to have two left-handed hitters splitting the position (he doesn’t have a lot of faith in Voit’s ability to consistently produce on a high level).

Murphy could replace Walker since he can play second and third base in addition to the not-so-hot corner. However, Murphy will look for a two (with an option?) or three-year deal and for decent bucks. That should price him out of the Yankees’ plans.

Of course, the big Hot Stove talk this Winter will be centered on the future destinations of  Clayton KershawManny Machado, and Bryce Harper.

Right off the bat, I see Kershaw returning to the Dodgers. I can’t picture how that doesn’t happen.

Where Machado ends up, and what position he will be willing to play, still remains a mystery. I’m not buying into the “he wants to play for the Yankees” gossip.

For years there have been rumors that Harper wants $400M, which is a clown-request, bro. I truly believe there’s at least a 50/50 chance he goes back to the Nationals.

Now that the Yankees have lowered their luxury tax threshold, it wouldn’t make sense for Hal Steinbrenner to blow the doors off the team vault.

Some other intriguing names to think about in the coming months include the versatile Marwin Gonzalez, outfielder Adam Jones, infielder Eduardo Escobar, reliever Brad Brach, and old friend Andrew Miller.

Not wishing time to go too quickly, but Spring Training can’t come soon enough! #Waittilnextyear

Click here to read about Aaron Boone and Brian Cashman postseason press conference.

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