Back in 1992, an HBO original movie called “The Comrades of Summer” saw Joe Mantegna play a disgraced MLB manager who took a job in post-Soviet Russia to guide their fledgling Olympic baseball team. Along the way, every time Mantegna asked one of his coaches where his team learned certain disciplines, the coach referred to “Manuel from Cuba” – a note that piqued Mantegna’s interest until he found out “Manuel” was the way the other coach was pronouncing “manual,” as in a handbook on how to play baseball.
There is, however, no handbook to tell you how to manage, play, or assure any outcome within a baseball game. Much like any other venture with variables, there is never one true or guaranteed outcome in any situation, even in as finite a moment as it gets, and no plan, as solid as it may seem, can execute itself.
And that’s the problem with the Yankees: if the script, the plan, whatever you want to call it falters, they don’t seem to know how to react. And that is on the manager for not doing so, and/or the general manager for not providing the manager the staff – coaches or players – to execute the plans.
Long story short: Aaron Boone just isn’t very good at actually managing, and Brian Cashman should no longer get a pass for his 1,000-word, two-minute long answers full of doublespeak and gobbledy-gook that boil down to the fact that no matter how you slice it, they did nothing at the deadline.
And with a team that’s underachieving and injured across the board, neither of those are acceptable.
Let’s look at a few decisions of late in this losing skid that have brought this question to light:
Gary Sanchez: What took so long to bench him? Yes, Gary is scary when he hits home runs, and he has seven – but in 114 plate appearances, he has 48 strikeouts and 35 total bases, and when you add in walks and hit by pitches to that total bases, he barely has a 1:1 ratio (48 K to 49 times touching a base).
Since the Yankees resumed play after their COVID and rain-related hiatus, Sanchez is 4-for-32 (1-for-8, .125) with two of those hits being pinch hits – meaning that as a starter, he’s 2 for his last 30. Yes, one of those pinch hits was a huge grand slam, but insert something about a blind squirrel and a nut here. The Yankees need big hits, yes, but they need HITS, period.
Sanchez did hit 34 homers last year – but so did 34 others, and none of them had a lower average than Sanchez, and only one had a lower OBP. And, Sanchez is now three seasons removed from a 2017 where he looked like an elite bat that outshone his shoddy defense – now, he’s a bad defensive catcher who isn’t hitting, and has not ended a day this year hitting better than .139, which came when he recorded the first of those two recent pinch hits. A couple weeks, even maybe 50 or 60 at-bats, is a slump; 114 plate appearances isn’t, and we now know what Sanchez isn’t: elite, or at the very least, a player who wouldn’t be a dime a dozen these days if he didn’t “play” a premium position.
DJ LeMahieu: I mean, the guy flat out said “no” when asked if he thought he needed a day off. What about the eye test said he did? Or was it the “script” that said so? Was it because he played seven days in a row, including both ends of a doubleheader? Oh, poor DJ, he’d never make it in a work-a-day world!
Sarcasm noted, but LeMahieu had just had TWO WEEKS OFF because of injury, and was 11-for-34 between his return and his “day off,” with an eight-game hitting streak snapped by a pinch-hit appearance in the back end of Sept. 4’s doubleheader. If he looked tired, than what’s the rest of the team’s excuse?
Bullpen: Boone is trying to stay away from guys, or he’s admitting “I’m not using guys in certain situations,” whether via statement or action. But as Jack Curry noted on Monday’s postgame, what about flat pitches and two length plate appearances turned walks have Boone any eye test idea that Adam Ottavino was the guy? Is he watching the game, or is he staring blankly while he chews gum and fidgets with his mask in the dugout?
All that said, Cashman is no angel, either, because even though it takes him 500 words to say 12, there’s no excuse for those 12: prices were too high for us to make a trade deadline deal. He’s been watching as Jordan Montgomery and Masahiro Tanaka “emptied the tank” in less than five innings and 80 pitches, watched as the bullpen had imploded, and watched as his lineup full of All-Stars spends more time in the trainer’s room than the batter’s box, and definitely on base.
Meanwhile, while “the price tags associated with the marketplace didn’t make sense for us to make recommendations to ownership,” names like Archie Bradley, Kevin Pillar, Jonathan Villar, Robbie Ray, Ross Stripling, Starling Marte, Mike Minor, and Taijuan Walker, were dealt for either PTBNL, cash, or fledgling MLB-ready prospects/back-end roster players – half of them alone to Toronto, another team with a young core chasing the Yankees.
All are guys who could’ve helped immediately, but instead, JA Happ threw another clunker, Mike Ford continued to play while offering little to no value, and the team started a middle infield of Tyler Wade and Thairo Estrada, whose combined averages are still lower than LeMahieu’s.
And even if those prices were too high…why did it take 15 bad outings from the rotation to get Deivi Garcia even a chance? Why is Clarke Schmidt a mop-up reliever? Where is literally any non-40-man roster reinforcement? Is Brooks Kriske, a 27-year-old reliever who never played above Double-A, or Albert Abreu, who was out of options before he made his MLB debut, so valuable that they need to be kept over someone with a track record of success?
For a GM who has made a recent career of “exploiting inefficiencies” to find guys like Tauchman and Luke Voit and Gio Urshela, Cashman sure is reticent to take a chance on a trade – and that’s a bad trait when combined with words that say “prospects are suspects until proven otherwise” but actions that rarely give those prospects a chance to prove otherwise until forced, and a manager whose postgame press conferences give the same platitudes day after day with all the urgency of a Bob Ross soliloquy.
It’s easy to pile on the Yankees right now and scapegoat Boone, or Cashman, or Sanchez, or anyone else. Or even Matt Blake, who may be a pitching guru when he has video info at his disposal, but has as of yet shown incapable of making in-game adjustments – but when those who cover the team the most are openly and validly questioning basic problems, you know something is wrong. VERY wrong.
The Yankees only have 20 days and 19 more games to figure it out and fix it. But with 13 of the first 16 of those games against either the team directly ahead of them in the division (Toronto) or the team hot on their heels for a Wild Card spot (Baltimore), they better do it quick, or the last days may not matter.