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Do The Yankees—And Their Fans—Have The Patience For A Real Youth Movement?
There have been a few Yankees “youth movements” during the rare down years of the Steinbrenner father-and-son era over the last 50 years, but I don’t believe any have matched the massive reconfiguration that has been undertaken at the tail end of this season in the Bronx. With New York slumbering towards the finish line with a mediocre 76-76 mark following Wednesday night’s desultory 6-1 loss to visiting Toronto, it’s hard to argue against the strategy.
The Yankees started five fielders ages 25 and under on Wednesday, with two more available on the bench. Not unsurprisingly, all have struggled at the plate, with seldom-used centerfielder Estevan Florial the only batter with an on-base percentage over .300—and he has accumulated just five hits in 27 at bats.
Florial was only called up from AAA Scranton because prodigy Jasson Dominguez, 20, tore his ulnar collateral ligament earlier this month after homering four times in his first eight MLB games. Domiguez underwent surgery on Wednesday and is expected to need 9-10 months to recover.
With Dominguez out, the Yankees’ bottom six of the batting order after D.J. LeMahieu, Aaron Judge, and Gleyber Torres, finished the game with the following batting averages:
Yuck. Was it any wonder the Yankees were shut out with a mere three hits until catcher Austin Wells’ first major league home run in the ninth inning? You can’t win if you don’t score—and you can’t score if you can’t hit. The Yankees are 29th among the 30 MLB teams in team batting average, 26th in on-base percentage, and 25th in runs per game this season.
For most of the youngsters who’ve been recently called up—and even everyday shortstop Anthony Volpe plus jack-of-all-trades Oswaldo Cabrera who has been here virtually all year--the sample sizes are too small to draw conclusions as to whether these players have the right stuff for big league futures. However, it isn’t an overreaction to fret over how long such a process will take.
As such, it’s fair to question whether the organization—and its rabid fan base—has the patience to see this through, especially since there are no guarantees that all or any of the prospects will pan out.
Historically speaking, patience has not been a Yankees virtue. Fans may speak positively on the subject of a rebuild when given the fact that their team has gone 14 years without a World Series title (tied for the longest drought in franchise history) and this group has generally underachieved, but they don’t always appreciate the initial pains that typically come with it. There is often second-guessing either way on fans’ part, whether General Manager Brian Cashman signs/trades for a veteran to fill a spot that could have gone to a prospect or fails to do so while the prospect spits the bit. Cashman may find it safer to go with more known quantities next season, like when the club gave the centerfield job to 33-year old Aaron Hicks at the start of this campaign.
The last time Cashman attempted a youth infusion was at the end of the lost cause 2016 season. Other than Judge, who developed into an iconic Yankee, that Baby Bombers concept didn’t really take—Gary Sanchez regressed while Tyler Austin was traded two years later for pitcher Lance Lynn. Greg Bird got off to a flying start as a rookie the prior season, but injuries grounded him thereafter and he was out of major league baseball after 2019. By the December 2016 offseason, Cashman went back to overpaying veterans on the wrong side of 30 like Jacoby Ellsbury, Chase Headley, and Matt Holiday.
To complicate matters for Cashman, an elongated timeline that comes with a rebuild doesn’t match up with his best players Judge and ace pitcher Gerrit Cole. 33-year old designated hitter Giancarlo Stanton, who sports the miserable .188 average above despite sitting just below Judge and Cole in 2023 salary, looks washed after another season of fits and starts due to various injuries and has another four years to go on his massive contract. Will the Yankees give him the Ellsbury treatment going forward if he’s untradeable so they can play kids?
Barring a major salary dumping, the Yankees are slated to register another $200 million-plus payroll next season. That’s an awfully hefty price tag for an experimental product.
On the plus side for the organization, Yankees fans do tend to show up—not including the COVID years, attendance has topped 3,000,000 every season in the 21st century, even during their five non-playoff years.
I was among the reported 35,587 folks in attendance on Wednesday, and the mood for most of the affair, as my cohort Jim noted, could best be described as “nonplussed.” No anger over the 14 strikeouts, including four by 23-year old third baseman Oswald Peraza. The majority of fans seemed resolved about the cold reality of the situation.
For me, the game was almost reminiscent of the previous two Jets seasons. You had a young team, with a struggling young quarterback that couldn’t manufacture many points, so mistakes were magnified. You just didn’t know how the game would turn sour.
On Wednesday night, Michael King pitched lights-out for New York, surrendering just one run while striking out 13 in seven innings. Then two Yankees relievers came on to walk the world, and the Blue Jays broke it open over the final two innings.
Afterwards, most of the focus was on King’s stellar outing and Wells’ dinger and earlier double. That brought the Yankees 2020 first round pick’s batting line all the way up to .163/.196/.326. Huzzah.
But putting such limited positivity aside, the question remains whether all parties are willing to ride this out for another year—or more. In other words, would the Yankees and their fans have sat quietly when Rome wasn’t built in a day?
Photo by Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports