No need to wait for next week’s All-Star break, the Yankees have already passed the mid-point of the season. The team long ago passed the point when it stopped being early. Now it’s just getting later and later with the trade deadline four weeks ago.
And even if the Yankees have not decided whether to be buyers or sellers, certainly there are indications that they’re at last ready to scrap certain parts of the plan and look into alternatives.
In the past 10 days, the Yankees have made five decisions that signal a move toward something different. These moves are not as drastic as some would like to see – no Aaron Judge in New York, no Carlos Beltran traded away, no change among the everyday infielders – but they carry weight just the same.
Do they signal a move toward selling at the deadline? Perhaps. Might depend on whether these sort of in-house shifts lead to any sort of improvement in the standings. Quite the opposite, actually. The Yankees are 4-6 since these changes began.
At the very least, these have been moves away from the status quo.
Benching Alex Rodriguez
This one started innocently enough with Carlos Beltran getting a DH day against a right-handed pitcher on June 26. It seemed to be just a day to give A-Rod a full day off and Beltran a half day off. But when Rodriguez was out of the lineup again a day later, it was clear a change was in the works. Joe Girardi has since acknowledged as much: A-Rod, with his struggles against righties, would be no longer treated as an everyday player.
The adjustment was put on hold for two days when Beltran got hurt, and it was further minimized because of three straight games in a National League park, but it was back in effect yesterday with Rodriguez on the bench for the Yankees’ series opener in Chicago. The lack of a reliable cleanup hitter against righties has been a problem all season, but Brian McCann and Mark Teixeira have shown some life lately.
The next step: With another year left on his contract, the only way to go a step farther with A-Rod is to release him and eat a ton of salary (hard to imagine he has an ounce of trade value). The Yankees can continue to get production out of him against left-handers – he actually has the team’s third-highest OPS vs. lefties this season – but is that enough to warrant keeping such a limited player on the roster? Going beyond a platoon role with A-Rod would be a massive decision, indeed.
Moving Nathan Eovaldi to the bullpen
To hear Girardi tell the story, moving Eovaldi into the bullpen was just a temporary solution to the problem of a short-handed bullpen. But that problem could have been addressed – again, temporarily – by sending Chad Green back to Triple-A and recalling Chasen Shreve or giving Tyler Webb a shot. Instead, the Yankees took the curious route of moving a career starter into the pen.
A temporary reaction to the situation at hand? Maybe. But if that were the case, why not declare Eovaldi to be Friday’s scheduled starter unless he were needed in relief? Why not put Eovaldi in the bullpen, and if he’s not needed – which he wasn’t – keep him lined up to make his next start? The Yankees did solve a temporary problem, but they did it in a way that broke from everything we’ve come to expect from them.
The next step: Return from the All-Star break with Green still in the rotation and either Eovaldi or Ivan Nova – depending on the way things play out the next six days – in the bullpen. The downside is that moving either Nova or Eovaldi into the pen instantly diminishes his trade value. The upside is giving Green an opportunity after he’s thrived in Triple-A and shown promise in his most recent big league audition.
Giving Aaron Hicks everyday at-bats
A young outfielder getting an everyday opportunity in right field is exactly what many fans have been begging to see for the past two or three weeks. Except, it’s not highly touted Judge who’s getting the at-bats. It’s highly disappointing Hicks. In his first three months with the Yankees, Hicks has made a lousy first impression, but the decision to play him regularly is as much a move for the future as it is a move for the present.
The Yankees’ decision comes from two perpectives: 1. A belief that Hicks will be better than he’s shown this season, and 2. A desire to find out whether he can be good enough to remain a piece of the long-term puzzle. In his career, Judge has played about five and a half months in Triple-A. He’s played like a serious big league call-up candidate for one of those months. Another right field change might be coming, but first, it’s Hicks who’s getting a chance.
The next step: Obviously the next step is Judge. Or perhaps it’s a trade of Beltran or Brett Gardner, which would start a series of dominoes falling to bring Judge or Ben Gamel or Jake Cave to New York. The Yankees have a lot of outfield talent in Triple-A. The next step is to give at least one of them a chance to play in the big leagues. The Yankees are curious to see what Hicks can do. Surely they’re also curious to see what the guys they developed can do.
Keeping Rob Refsnyder
It was 10 days ago that the Yankees activated Teixeira from the disabled list and designated Ike Davis for assignment. At the time, that move seemed like the natural way to go, but don’t forget the Yankees opened the season with a left-handed backup first baseman in Dustin Ackley and Davis could have simply filled that void (at least for a little while). But the Yankees chose to keep Refsnyder in New York.
No, the Yankees have not given Refsnyder everyday at-bats, but they have started him at three different positions and played him off the bench at another. Girardi has lately talked a lot about his instincts on the bases and the professionalism of his at-bats. It seems clear he’s coming around and starting to trust Refsnyder more and more. Position changes have become a way to give Refsnyder a role, not a way to bury him in the minors.
The next step: More at-bats. More starts at second base. More turns in the outfield. Maybe even more playing time at first base if Teixeira stumbles or gets hurt or plays well enough to be traded at the deadline. Whatever it takes, the next step is to simply give Refsnyder more playing time. The Yankees are already discovering that Refsnyder can be at least a utility man with a platoon bat. What’s next is to find out whether he can be more than that.
Promoting Luis Cessa and Connor Mullee
Until exactly one week ago, the Yankees had stuck with Kirby Yates since Opening Day. He’d exceeded expectations for a while, pitched extremely well in the month of May, and the Yankees spent all of June crossing their fingers that he’d get going again. Two days before the optioned Yates, they optioned Nick Goody, the last man standing of the projected Scranton/Wilkes-Barre bullpen shuttle.
By sending down Yates and Goody, the Yankees officially moved into unexpected territory. Luis Cessa was recalled, and Girardi talked about the importance of actually using him this time both as a long man and possibly as a one-inning guy. Mullee was recalled, having pitched too well for too long to be ignored. Richard Bleier stuck around, having made a surprisingly good first impression. The Yankees came into this season believing they had bullpen depth, but injuries and disappointing performances change things considerably. Now the Yankees are trying a combination of middle relievers they never could have anticipated at the start of spring training.
The next step: Really, the next step is two things: Address the trade market for Aroldis Chapman and perhaps Andrew Miller, and also figure out who else from the Triple-A roster – and maybe the Double-A roster – is worth a shot in New York. Has Chasen Shreve gotten things figure out? Is Jonathan Holder worth a look? What about Webb or Mark Montgomery or this kid Dietrich Enns who just keeps getting people out? The Yankees have already gone outside the box in their bullpen. Who else might fit, and what can they get in return for the guys they already have?
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