Yankees Game 2 decision looms large ahead of challenging offseason
Oct 29, 2020 | By: Donald Stewart
As the final out was recorded and the dust settles on the LA Dodgers World Series win over the Rays in Arlington Texas, this officially begins a very interesting and challenging winter for all MLB teams this offseason, particularly for The Yankees.
As we head into this winter, the Yankees have a lot more questions than answers to address, and much of it is to do with another early October exit. There are legitimate questions at Catcher due to Gary Sanchez severe struggles on both sides of the plate, and subsequent benching in favor of the defensively superior Kyle Higashioka. There is also an issue at shortstop as phenom Gleyber Torres, who is so important to the future of the Yankees, really struggled in his first full season at short. Many observers feel he doesn’t have the readiness or the range for the position, and he may be better off moving back to his more favored position at second. This in turn raises questions to the free agent status of current second baseman DJ LeMahieu lovingly dubbed ‘Le Machine,’ by fans and teammates. DJ almost certainly has been the Yanks best player these past two years, and now has an AL batting title to add to his already impressive resume. All these questions will surely be addressed as the offseason commences.
However, the key question mark currently lies in the starting rotation, and more specifically every spot behind ace Gerrit Cole. The Yankees could have assuaged these concerns had they shown more faith in Deivi Garcia in the now infamous game 2, which is a decision which will haunt the Yankees for years to come.
As way of illustration, following on from their impressive series win over Cleveland, the Yankees carried on the good vibes by showing their offensive prowess against Tampa’s #1 starter Blake Snell, while Gerrit Cole did exactly what aces do to help propel the Yanks to an important opening victory in the best of 5 series.
Game 2 however changed the course of the series; we were originally led to believe the Yankees would be turning to rookie starter Deivi Garcia, who had shown a lot in his rookie year. He’d shown poise and a nice amount of swagger on the mound and his performances in the regular season were encouraging. Fans and observers were looking forward to seeing what the young pitcher could do. Yankees front office and manager Aaron Boone had other ideas though, as inconsistent veteran starter JA Happ soon replaced Garcia to start the second. This curious move backfired spectacularly and doomed them to a loss and a crucial momentum swing in favor of Tampa Bay. Tampa incidentally continued to ride that momentum to a World Series appearance which is a testament to how a small market team can match their bigger rivals by being smart on and off the field. This move has been dissected in many baseball circles because no matter which way we look at it, it didn’t make a lot of sense at the time or going forward.
First, the Yankees have an offense while streaky, is still arguably the deepest lineup in the majors so you should be able to trust them against most teams.
Second, not only does it show little faith in young Deivi, it shows no faith in Happ either. Happ was not on board with Boone’s decision, and made his feelings known before the game according to his post-game interview. Any plan that doesn’t have everyone’s full trust isn’t a plan to carry into a playoff series. Also, the strategy was based on flawed logic: Happ is a finesse pitcher in this late stage of his career and his numbers are similar against lefty and righty bats this year, so there is little difference for any opposition manager to feel the need to flip their lineup and strategize around him, as he doesn’t overpower batters. This was a classic case of the Yankees overthinking the situation.
It’s also reasonable to ask- if the yanks trusted Happ to pitch the bulk of the innings, why not just have him start the game, where he is clearly more comfortable? Starting pitchers are creatures of habit, they have their routine, and this plan upset that.
Alternatively, and this was the better way to go, since they clearly didn’t trust Happ, it made all the sense in the world to give the opportunity to a high-upside talent like Deivi Garcia. To quote Yankees director of pitching Sam Briend in Dan Martin’s latest article in the NY Post: “What stands out about Deivi is he’s such a competitor, with his demeanor you would think he’s been in the majors 10 years.”
This begs the question, if their own director of pitching thinks he’s mature beyond his years, why wouldn’t the Yankees decision makers?
Prominent Yankee voices such as Michael Kay on his drive-time radio show was exacerbated by the move saying the Yankees tried to ‘play the okie doke with the Rays,’ CC Sabathia, heading to the hall of fame said on the R2C2 podcast with Ryan Ruocco: “we tried to play them at their game, and they beat us at it which ended up costing us the series.” CC makes a good point here, it felt like the team played to the Rays strengths rather than the Yankees strengths. Alex Rodriguez went further, “players win championships. We used to say, if managers can stay out of the game, that would be great, now we say if front offices can stay out of the game. Frustrating.” This Is where the contentious aspect of the influence analytics has in baseball front offices comes in. It is quite clear to argue that many games are often pre-scripted long before the players take the field. While analytics is a big part of all major Sports moving forward, and it has its benefits, one thing analytics doesn’t measure is heart or the intangibles of a player which Yankee decision makers would be wise to consider more going forward.
It was clear that neither Happ nor Garcia were happy with this call, which is a clear sign that this was a poorly concocted strategy. This was Boone’s responsibility regardless of whether he brainstormed this plan or not, its up to him to make sure these two guys were fully on board, or else it needed to be shelved. As it turned out, this decision played straight into Tampa’s hands, it showed them that the Yankees with a $200+ million payroll, 27 Championships, and a one game lead, is having to strategize around Tampa’s team with a payroll only double Gerrit Cole’s annual salary.
As we head into this offseason, it would have benefited the Yankees to have trusted Garcia, with money tight due to the pandemic they would have had a better sense of where to slot him in the rotation or where he currently is in terms of his development.
We also must consider due to Covid, the Yankees have suffered more than any other team in Baseball due to no fans coming through the turnstiles. They have sustained major losses, and it is likely that principle owner Hal Steinbrenner will want the team to remain contenders, but also ask Brian Cashman to get the payroll down to under the $200 mill luxury tax threshold. This would limit what the Yankees can afford in terms of their own free agents, and their marketplace maneuverability in general. It isn’t a stretch to wonder if the Yankees had shown more faith in Garcia, they would have a better idea of the amount of dollars they need to invest in their rotation next year.
While we don’t know for certain if Garcia would have propelled the Yankees over the Rays, there were far more reasons to give him an opportunity than not.
This is one of many questions to ponder going into this unique offseason.