Brian Cashman’s Yankees juggernaut falling apart

For the first three months of the season, the Yankees were the runaway best team in baseball, 61-23 in first place on July 8 in the AL East by 15 ½ games, and it seemed they just couldn’t lose. Since then, they’ve gone 12-25, 4-14 in August, with one more win than Joey Gallo has homers for the Dodgers, and now it seems they just can’t win.

It is therefore understandable if the Bronx faithful are asking: Will the real 2022 Yankees please stand up? Because if they already are, if the July-August Yankees are in fact the real Yankees, then Brian Cashman has another lost season on his hands.

This has to be about the most exasperating season Cashman has ever experienced. When the Yankees were riding so high from April-July he could rightfully take bows for fixing everything that was wrong with last year’s base-running challenged/defensively flawed Yankee team, by replacing Gary Sanchez at catcher with Jose Trevino, trading with Minnesota for Isiah Kiner-Falefa to play shortstop so Gleyber Torres could move back to second base, and Josh Donaldson to tighten up third base.

But his coup de grace was plucking Matt Carpenter off the scrap heap for nothing. Between (1) the vastly improved defense, (2) the starting rotation that yielded more than three runs only three times and didn’t miss a start until July when Luis Severino went down with a low grade lat strain, (3) the lockdown back end of the bullpen of previous Cashman trade acquisitions, Clay Holmes and Michael King, and (4) Aaron Judge’s home run heroics, the Yankees had the look of a pitching/defense/power juggernaut fully capable of getting them back to the World Series for the first time since 2009.

And then Carpenter (who’d slashed .305/.412/.727 with an OPS of 1.138) went down with a broken foot, Giancarlo Stanton came back from winning MVP honors at the All-Star Game and promptly disappeared with an Achilles injury , King was lost for the season with a fracture in his elbow, Holmes went on the IL with a back issue, and suddenly Cashman’s juggernaut was anything but. What has most been exposed by this slump, however, is the one glaring flaw of last year’s team that Cashman apparently has been unable to correct, even with two new analytics-oriented hitting coaches: The home run or bust offense which continues to struggle putting the ball in play for sustained rallies.

The “if you want to beat the Yankees, you’ve gotta keep ’em in the ball park” theory has never been more true. The Yankees are 63-27 this year when they homer, 10-21 when they don’t homer. Similarly, they’re 50-6 when they hit more homers than their opponent, 3-19 when they’re out-homered. According to the Elias Bureau, since their July 8 high point, they’ve slashed .240/.329/.421 as a team with 329 strikeouts, fifth most in baseball during that span., and so many of them in critical situations. In that regard, the biggest culprits have been Aaron Hicks, Torres and Donaldson (especially against right-handed pitching).

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A lot of the Yankees’ offensive woes can certainly be attributed to the absence of Carpenter and Stanton. Center field continues to be an empty hole which Cashman can only hope will be somewhat rectified when (or if) the speedy, defensively-elite Harrison Bader, whom he acquired from the Cardinals for Jordan Montgomery (in a deal that is looking very ill- conceived right now) finally recovers from plantar fasciitis. For now, it’s hard for Cashman to explain the jettisoning of Montgomery, who’s 3-0 with an 0.54 ERA, 17 strikeouts and 3 walks in his first three starts for the Cardinals, as opposed to Frankie Montas, the GM’s prize acquisition at the trade deadline who’s struggled to a 9.00 ERA, 18 hits in 14 innings and a 1.714 WHIP in his first three starts as a Yankee.

In fairness, however, Montas was universally regarded throughout baseball as a bona fide No. 2 starter, while Montgomery, who really had pitched just so-so for the Yankees this year, was probably not going to be on their initial postseason roster.

Regardless if Bader finally makes his way to the Bronx to justify the deal, if Holmes’ back issue is not fixed, the Yankees do not have a closer, and that’s a far bigger problem than center field. You can therefore not blame Cashman for believing the real 2022 Yankees will yet re-emerge sometime in September with Holmes recovered, Stanton back in left field, Bader in center, Montas returning to form and Severino and Clarke Schmidt (who’s been superb at Triple- A Scranton) further fortifying the rotation.

That’s his vision and he’s sticking to it.

Jon Daniels, a one-time “Boy Wonder” GM who was the architect of the Texas Rangers teams that went to back-to-back American League championship series in 2010-2011 is the latest to find out that baseball is a “what have you done for us lately” business. Daniels was fired as Rangers president last week two days after they were fired as manager Chris Woodward but this is what happens after six straight losing seasons. It sure didn’t help that Daniels last winter invested $325M in shortstop Corey Seager$175M on second baseman Marcus Semien and $56M on righty starter John Gray, all of whom had subpar seasons, in the expectation of contending this season. It’s hard to say if Daniels was a victim of his own over-emphasis of analytics, especially since almost every GM today has a high reliance on analytics. But after the popular Ron Washington quit in 2014, Daniels went out of his way to find managers, first Jeff Bannister and then Woodward, who had virtually no managerial experience and thus no reason to believe they could be difference-makers, rather than just emissaries of the analytics department. …

The Braves, who do as good or better a job than any organization in baseball in scouting and player development, locked up another homegrown player last week in center fielder Michael Harris II — who leads all qualified rookies with a .825 OPS this year — to an eight-year deal for $72M. This came on the heels of the 10-year/$212M deal the Braves did with the third baseman Austin Riley. The Braves signed two other home-grown players in 2019; outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. to an eight-year/$100M deal and second baseman Ozzie Albies to a five-year/$35M extension. Having locked up first baseman Matt Olson for eight years/$168M after acquiring him from the A’s last winter, the Braves have their entire core signed long term with the exception of shortstop Dansby Swanson. It will be interesting to see how far they’ll be willing to go for the 28-year-old Swanson, a Casey Close client who’s having a career season. If Close, who also represented Freddie Freeman in his negotiations-gone-wrong with the Braves, is not willing to give the Braves a bit of a hometown discount on Swanson, they already have another shortstop-in-waiting in top prospect and Georgia native Vaughn Grissom, who was recently called up to fill in at second base and in his first 10 games hit .371 with two homers and seven RBI. …

Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley has already announced he’s retiring as a Red Sox broadcaster after the season and that has obviously given him the freedom to say what he really thinks — like last Tuesday when he described the last-place Pirates’ roster as “pathetic. … it’s ridiculous. It really is. Pathetic,” Eckersley said. “You talk about a no-name lineup. There’s no team like this.” He wasn’t wrong. That night the Pirates had three players in their starting lineup hitting under .200 while the leadoff hitter, Tacupita Marcanowas slashing .227/.286/.336.

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