After yet another loss on Sunday, the Yankees are hovering around .500 yet again, with a 33-32 record. That puts New York in fourth place in the AL East, 8.5 games back of the leading Tampa Bay Rays.
The worst part about all of this? There doesn’t seem to be any answer to get these Yanks out of this rut – at least not right now.
That’s why all eyes are on GM Brian Cashman, the long-time architect of the Yankees, to make some sort of move before the trade deadline to revitalize his squad to live up to their playoff expectations. Because, as of right now, the postseason isn’t something this team appears to be destined for.
But, while some fingers are pointing at manager Aaron Boone to take the brunt of this current hardship, should they be aimed at Cashman instead? After all, this roster was constructed by him and Boone has to work with what he’s got.
When you break it all down, there is a clear argument that Cashman is the reason behind why the Yanks just can’t put two and two together right now – and it isn’t just moves made this past offseason. Let’s take a look:
Failure to shore up rotation
This is the biggest offender of them all when you look at what Cashman did this offseason. With James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka and J.A. Happ set to walk, as well as Luis Severino still rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, something had to be done with the rotation.
The easiest move that could’ve been made was re-signing Tanaka, the man who has given everything to the pinstripes since coming over from Japan to play in MLB. His postseason pedigree was undeniable, and despite some lapses in consistency, he has been their guy for years. But Cashman let him go back to Japan to play.
With Paxton and Happ not viable options, the free agent and trade markets had some good players on it. But Cashman decided to take a risk with Corey Kluber in free agency and trading for Jameson Taillon with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Both pitchers were high-risk, high-reward. Is that what a team with a championship lineup needs behind Gerrit Cole? Yes, Jordan Montgomery and Domingo German were returning to the rotation, but they’ve always been back-end starters.
The Yankees could’ve used a signing like Taijuan Walker, who is killing it with the Mets. Or even a trade for Joe Musgrove, which has turned out great with the San Diego Padres. Kluber did seem to turn things around, especially after tossing a no-hitter. But now he’s on the IL with another shoulder issue after having injury problems in the past in that area. And despite being a No. 2 overall selection in the past, Taillon is pitching after two Tommy John surgeries and reworking his entire mechanics. A 5.74 ERA over 12 starts is what the Yanks got right now.
That’s not what this team needed. They needed a solid No. 2 behind Cole, but Cashman took a big gamble instead.
Yankee fans already know the mantra for this team is to mash homers and out-power opponents. It’s been that way basically since Boone took over.
But, when the ball isn’t flying over the fence, then what?
We’re seeing it this season, with the Yanks hitting just .221 with runners in scoring position. It’s their worst mark thus far since Boone took over. They did have a .255 mark in the 2020 shortened campaign and were even better in 2019 at .294.
What isn’t helping the Yanks right now is DJ LeMahieu isn’t performing like we’re used to seeing. He does have a .335 on-base percentage, which is low for him considering he posted a .375 mark in 2019 and an enormous .421 in 2020. But a .261 average with many double plays mixed in there isn’t normal.
And considering LeMahieu is the only contact-first hitter in the lineup, things are starting to make sense as to why the Yanks can’t score runs right now. When all the power hitters can’t get the ball up in the air and out of the park, offense diminishes.
I’m not one to care about the amount of lefty to righty bats in the lineup – that doesn’t matter in the bigs. But despite the All-Star power in this group – Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez, etc. — having too much power is a thing worth pointing out, especially when it isn’t performing how it should be.
Don’t be surprised to see Cashman in the shortstop market this offseason because Torres just isn’t it for the Yanks at the position.
When Didi Gregorius walked to the Phillies in free agency, there were some that couldn’t believe the move. Torres was perfect as a second baseman because it didn’t require a longer throw and his range issues were masked there. Now, it’s all out in the open with a career -15 defensive runs saved at shortstop since he started playing there in 2018.
Just last season alone in 320.2 innings at short, Torres was a minus-9 in that category with nine errors.
Torres is still young and offers a solid bat, when he’s on, and a little speed to the base paths. But the writing was on the wall with him being shortstop, yet it was ignored and gambled on by Cashman.
Moves from the past coming back to haunt
We’ve already mentioned letting Gregorius walk. But there’s more moves from the past that are coming back to haunt them now.
The Stanton trade is one of them. At that time, the Yanks proved to be a playoff contender when they weren’t expected to, so Cashman pulled the trigger with Derek Jeter and the Marlins to take over Stanton’s gigantic, long-term deal to give the lineup another MVP-caliber bat. Stanton has produced well when healthy, but he hasn’t been able to stay on the field consistently and he’s signed through 2028. That’s a stronghold on cap room.
There’s also the Aaron Hicks extension in 2019 at seven years, $70 million. Sure, it was cheaper than most deals for a center fielder. But Hicks had the injury history and it’s showing now with him unavailable. And since his solid 2019 campaign, he’s averaging around .210 over the last two seasons. He’s signed through 2025 with a club option in 2026.
Could the Severino deal come into this category down the road? If he can’t stay healthy, maybe that’s one as well. But those two moves are major ones that hurt the Yanks in the present and down the road.
Should ownership be blamed, too?
While Cashman makes the move, Hal Steinbrenner is the man saying yes or no to many of them because of the want to stay under the luxury tax threshold. In the past, Cashman has had carte blanche to spend where he sees fit. Things have obviously changed in that department, though.
That’s why SNY’s Andy Martino isn’t sure the Yankees are going to make the big splash fans might want right now.
“Yankees people won’t say it explicitly, but it’s been clear since the beginning of the offseason that ownership has, at minimum, a very strong disinclination to exceed the $210 million luxury tax threshold this year,” Martino wrote in his latest Yankees mailbag.
Right now, New York is about $4 million under that line.