We hear the recurring cry “it’s still early” — and it is — but that’s not to say we didn’t already learn a lot from April to form some definitive opinions. So here they are:
This is the worst constructed Yankee team in memory
As April turned into May and the jury still very much out on the two key starting pitching acquisitions, Cory Kluber and Jameson Taillon, the most disturbing issue with this Yankee team was the collective .216 team batting average in April and the fact that five of their semi-regulars — Aaron Hicks, Brett Gardner, Gary Sanchez, Clint Frazier and Rougned Odor — were all batting under .200. In the case of Gardner, who at 37 probably shouldn’t have been re-signed, and Hicks, who looks like he’s totally checked out, we’re talking lost causes here. Right now the Yankees are getting zero production out of Frazier and Gardner in left field, and Hicks in center (who is nevertheless signed to a $10 million-a-year contract through the 2025).
The general manager Brian Cashman has been loath to give up on his guys despite what the critics say about them. That’s why Sanchez has still been getting the bulk of the catching duties, Hicks started the year hitting in the No. 3 hole and Tyler Wade — despite limited skills to begin with — keeps re-surfacing as a jack of all trades, master of none who now can’t even execute the little things like bunting. It’s a bit of a mystery why Cashman traded Mike Tauchman, a left-handed bat with clearly more attributes than the aged Gardner, but the time is about at hand when the GM is going to have to swallow hard and make some tough decisions — like releasing Gardner and getting the head-case Hicks out of New York. He also should be exploring trades for Frazier as his once-high value is diminishing by the day.
Still, as badly constructed as this heavily right-handed Yankee team is, the rest of the AL East teams are equally flawed and none of them seem capable — at least right now — of breaking away from the pack.
Unfairly or not, Michael Conforto is public face of the Mets’ hitting malaise
The Mets beleaguered right fielder finished April at .219 with just one homer and four RBI — or about as bad as Francisco Lindor’s .203, one homer/three RBI in the first-month installment on his 10-year/$341 million contract. The ink was barely dry on Lindor’s contract when various media types were imploring Steve Cohen to likewise lock up his own homegrown guy, Conforto, and not spare any expense in doing so. We must assume Lindor will soon heat up, revert to form and start earning his money as the lynchpin of the Mets offense. But Conforto, injury plagued his first two seasons, has never been that kind of hitter (despite his agent Scott Boras’ continual superstar hype), with more strikeouts than hits just about every year of his career, and if Cohen wasn’t gun shy about doling out another multi million contract on the heels of his Lindor deal, now he definitely should be. Whether Conforto knows it or not, his fate with the Mets may be directly tied to Lindor.
Unsung Bob Melvin may be the best manager in baseball
There’s a reason Melvin has been the A’s skipper for 10 years with nary a critical word from his boss Billy Beane: His teams consistently confound the naysayers, seemingly overachieving every year despite severe payroll restrictions and free agent defections. In his 10 years in Oakland, Melvin has finished first in the AL West three times and second three times. This year is no different. After losing his best player, Marcus Semien, and his dominant closer, Liam Hendriks, through free agency last winter, Melvin’s A’s got off to an 0-6 start, then reeled off 13 wins in a row and left April perched in first place. This, despite the fact that Semien’s replacement at shortstop, Elvis Andrus, hit .159 with four RBI in April and their other best player, Matt Chapman, hit .184 with 35 strikeouts and only 16 hits.
Colorado’s Dick Monfort is most incompetent owner in baseball
Last week, Monfort finally got around to firing Jeff Bridich, who had only been one of the worst general managers the game has known in recent years. During his reign of error, Bridich spent $175 million on free agent busts Jake McGee, Bryan Shaw, Wade Davis, Ian Desmond, and Daniel Murphy — at the same time he allowed fan favorite DJ LeMahieu to sign with Yankees — without even a counter offer — for two years/$24 million. The final straw was Bridich signing Nolan Arenado to an eight year/$260 million extension and then getting into a public and ugly dispute with him over the direction of the team, resulting in the Rockies trading the disgruntled All-Star third baseman to the Cardinals last winter and throwing in $51 million to make it happen. Monfort gave full approval to all of these disastrous moves. At the time of the highly unpopular Arenado deal, the embarrassed Monfort said: “I haven’t thought about firing Jeff, but I have thought of firing myself.” No doubt Rockie fans wish he would. In the 16 years of primary ownership of Dick Monfort and his brother Charlie, the Rockies have had 10 losing seasons, only four postseason appearances and one World Series in which they were swept.
IT’S A MADD, MADD WORLD
When the Diamondbacks’ Madison Bumgarner pitched his seven-inning no-hitter in the first game of a doubleheader against the Braves last Sunday there was a lot of discussion as to whether it would count as an official no-hitter since it was a complete game. I have no doubt the idea geeks in Rob Manfred’s office probably felt it should since these seven-inning doubleheaders was their idea, along with other time-based innovations they came up in the wake of the pandemic — runner on second to start extra innings, three batter limit for relief pitchers, etc. Thankfully, it took the Elias Sports Bureau to put in perspective what a travesty it would be for baseball to equate seven-inning games with nine-inning games when they computed that Nolan Ryan pitched hitless ball through seven innings 23 times in his career! They also added, since 1961 there have been 151 no-hitters of nine innings — and 497 no-hit bids of seven-plus innings in which the pitcher later gave up a hit. And that doesn’t count the 16 times a pitcher was removed from the game after seven-plus hitless innings. So it would seem MLB is just going to have to be content with treating these seven-inning games as complete games. … Last week, the Tampa Bay Rays announced they’ll be sending shortstop Wander Franco, acknowledged as the No. 1 prospect in baseball, to their Triple-A farm in Durham. But we wonder how long Wander will be staying there. The offensively-challenged Rays, averaging double digits in strikeouts per game, are one of the hardest teams to watch this year and their shortstop Willy Adames (.165/27 K/13 hits in 83 April plate appearances) has been one their biggest culprits while also playing below average defense.