These days you can’t blame Yankee GM Brian Cashman for feeling a little bit like the fabled Little Dutch Boy, who tried to save Holland by sticking his finger in the dike to stop a leak, only to have it spring anew whenever he removed it.
Cashman has tried his darndest to patch all the Yankees’ leaks this season, starting with the bullpen and third base with his trade with the White Sox for David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and Todd Frazier, then first base with his deal for buried Brewers prospect Garrett Cooper, and finally to the starting rotation with last week’s deal for much-coveted A’s righty Sonny Gray. But, alas, every time it seems Cashman has shored up a significant Yankee vulnerability, a new one immediately crops up.
As a result, when it comes to predicting just how far the Yankees can go in the postseason — or if, gulp, they will even make the postseason — we appear to be right back where we were at the start of the season, when the Yankee high command itself said cautiously they hoped this would be the year in which the much-touted youth movement began to take hold at the major league level while grudgingly admitting the starting pitching was rife with question marks.
The youth movement? For the first half of the season, with Aaron Judge putting up historic MVP numbers, Gary Sanchez picking up with the bat where he left off last year and Clint Frazier coming up from Triple A and hitting a solid .270 with four homers and 18 RBI in 23 games in July (not to mention Luis Severino emerging as the ace of the rotation), it looked the kids had indeed arrived a year ahead of schedule. But now, in the dog days of August, Sanchez has performed like a dog behind the plate; Judge has been mired in a dreadful (14-for-84, .166 with 38 strikeouts and 21 walks) slump going into last night — all too-reminiscent of his 15-for-84, 42 strikeouts, 9 walks debut numbers from last year — and Frazier, after falling into a 7-for-42, .167 funk his last 10 games, suffered an oblique injury that will now likely sideline him for weeks.
Only Luis Severino has maintained his first-half dominance, and thank goodness for that because the rest of the Yankee rotation, sadly, has lived up to all its underwhelming pre-season expectations. Michael Pineda blew out his elbow and is done for the year. CC Sabathia pitched admirably through the first four months of the season, but not so good his last three starts and is starting to experience more problems with his chronically balky right knee. And of course, the biggest enigma remains Masahiro Tanaka, who periodically turns in ace-like performances — and too many pratfalls that have led to an ugly yield of 28 homers and a very un-ace-like 4.92 ERA.
So what’s a GM to do? Cashman tried to further address the Yankees’ Judge-led slumping offense by offering the Mets what I’m told were two very decent prospects for Jay Bruce, as a DH replacement for Matt Holliday, who is probably done for the season — only to be rebuffed when Jeff Wilpon overruled Mets GM Sandy Alderson on making a deal — any deal — with the Yankees. (As a result, Alderson had to settle for another in a long line of undistinguished minor league relievers — Ryder Ryan, who has a 4.79 ERA in low level A ball, from the Indians — in his series of trading deadline Met clearance deals.)
As a scout who has been following the Yankees told me: “The league has caught up to Judge. They’re jamming him up high, then coming back with those sliders and breaking pitching pitches off the outside corner and he’s just going to have to make the adjustments. Same with Sanchez behind the plate. He’s awful. You can’t win with a catcher who can’t block pitches and move back there. He still hasn’t learned to speak English so you have to wonder about his game-calling too.”
With no adequate DH replacement for Holliday in sight now, Cashman has to hope Aaron Hicks and Starlin Castro, both of whom were major factors in the Yankee offense that led the league in almost every category the first half, come back and pick up where they left off. That would take a lot of pressure off Judge.
There’s not a whole lot Cashman can further do for the rotation. He has to hope Severino can continue to dominate and not wear down; that Gray stays healthy and continues to pitch like the No. 1 he was in Oakland; that Tanaka can limit his clunkers, and the rest of the rotation — whoever they may be — can turn in enough quality starts to get the games to the deep bullpen.
When Cashman started all his wheeling and dealing, it was with an eye on winning the AL East outright, which seemed a distinct possibility three weeks ago, before the Red Sox got hot. But even though the Yanks are still 2 ½ games up in the wild card, it’s safe to say they really can’t afford any more leaks.
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