The New York Yankees entered 2016 with questions surrounding both the rotation and starting lineup, but nobody questioned one spot of the roster: the bullpen. Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman would combine for a three-headed monster of potentially historic proportions.
Games against the Bronx Bombers would basically be over before the seventh-inning stretch. Right?
While Chapman is still serving his 30-game suspension and hasn’t debuted yet, a sluggish April has prevented New York from utilizing what we all figured would be its greatest strength.
General manager Brian Cashman has toed the line between getting younger and remaining competitive for quite a while and has done a great job. He found Derek Jeter’s successor in Didi Gregorius and despite not signing an MLB free agent this past winter, he made what appeared to be solid additions in Chapman, Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks.
However, the one thing on Cashman’s to-do list that he couldn’t cross off was finding depth (or just better options) for the starting rotation. He even sacrificed some depth by sending Adam Warren to the Chicago Cubs in the Castro trade. This area was a cause for concern, but there seemed to be enough positives where an overwhelming bullpen would make up the difference.
Masahiro Tanaka has been living up to expectations, but Nathan Eovaldi and CC Sabathia both own ERAs over 5.00, while Luis Severino and Michael Pineda have ERAs over 6.00. Also, their most immediate insurance policy is Ivan Nova, who owns a 5.14 ERA out of the bullpen.
But we knew this about the Yankees’ rotation heading into the season – there was a chance they wouldn’t be good as a group, which is why they acquired Chapman to further lock down what was already a lockdown backend of the bullpen.
What’s really throwing a wrench into all this is the offense. After scoring the second-most runs in the American League in 2015, virtually the entire lineup has struggled outside of Castro and Brian McCann. Scoring 3.42 runs per game and allowing 4.83 runs per game is not a good recipe for a team to take advantage of its elite relief pitchers.
Cashman’s reaction to these struggles has been nearly as interesting as the on-field action itself. He already sounds pretty fed up in a recent New York Times article, and has a point – getting to the playoffs doesn’t happen in April and May, but slow starts can certainly prevent them from happening.
Like any frustrated general manager, it sounds like he’s getting to the point where he’d like to make changes, but he clearly doesn’t want to:
“I’ve done this job a long time and I put this roster together. I feel it’s significantly better than it has performed, and when it doesn’t perform up to expectations over the course of time, I have a history of making changes. I would rather not go that route, but when you are forced to do so, you are forced to do so.”
This roster is full of players with great resumes, but that’s the problem – what they’ve accomplished is in the past.
Yes, it’s only May. And yes, there’s every reason to believe the Yankees can still squeeze the last little bit of productive baseball out of their aging veterans, but something must be done in order to send a message and make players uncomfortable. There aren’t many internal options when it comes to making lineup and/or roster changes, but they do exist.
Ken Davidoff of the New York Post provided four suggestions on how New York could shake things up, which includes benching Chase Headley and sending Severino back to Triple-A if his extreme struggles persist. Past track record and potential are the main drivers behind continuing to run these players out every night – they know what they’re capable of and they can’t work through slumps if they don’t play, right?
That’s true, but the front office and coaching staff have to send a clear message that salaries, past track records and/or potential don’t determine playing time, production does. Providing a lack of job security may be exactly what some of these players need to get themselves into gear.
The Boston Red Sox went back to this philosophy in 2016, and it’s been working so far:
If they went according to who was getting paid the most, Pablo Sandoval and Rusney Castillo would have began the season playing every day. Instead, manager John Farrell went with Travis Shaw and Brock Holt because they were performing the best.
Is it a coincidence that they’re currently 15-11 and 0.5 games out of first place in the AL East? It shouldn’t be.
Will doing something like this in the Bronx and giving guys like Hicks, Ronald Torreyes and Dustin Ackley more playing time automatically turn their season around? Technically, it could, but the odds are against that from happening. However, that may be the kick in the behind New York’s vets need to get going. Either way, it can’t be any worse than what we’ve seen so far.
As Cashman said in that New York Times article, he built this roster. So, one can assume that’s why he’s waiting as long as possible before making changes. He believes in his plan and is invested in seeing it come to pass. While this is understandable and there are still five months left in the regular season, he should heed some advice from a reliable source…Van Wilder, Sr.:
“Sometimes you just have to realize a poor investment and simply cut your losses. Write that down.”
Can the Yankees “simply cut their losses” in the same way the Chicago White Sox did so with starting pitcher John Danks on Tuesday? Not really, but they should take note of what the Red Sox have done, how those decisions have worked out thus far and how it may have impacted the rest of the 25-man roster.
New York’s bullpen – while it’s proven to be mortal throughout the season’s first month – is already great with Betances and Miller, and it’ll only get better when Chapman returns. But what good will having these guys be if the rotation overworks them and there’s no consistent support from the offense?
Not much. This team needs a spark, and they shouldn’t have to wait any longer for it if they want to have a chance at playing in October.
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