There’s no doubt about it: the 2017 New York Yankees have hit a wall. The club has lost 8 out of 9 games, has lost its division lead (they are now tied with the Boston Red Sox for first place), and the club is having trouble in all facets of the game.
However, all is not lost for the Yankees. As tempting as it is to go out and shake up the roster, the Yankees are probably better served riding this out and remaining patient, rather than doing something rash that the club will regret down the road.
The Yankees have lots of problems right now: the hitting has gone dry, the pitchers are serving up dingers, and there have been too many mistakes running the bases and playing defense. This horrible stretch of baseball began on the club’s fateful California road trip. After going 1-6 to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Oakland Athletics, the Yankees returned home to lose 2 more to the Angels and now welcome the streaky Texas Rangers to town for a weekend series.
The most highly-publicized issue for the Yankees of late has been the collapse of several pitchers crucial to the club’s success, including Masahiro Tanaka and Tyler Clippard. CC Sabathia, Aroldis Chapman, and Adam Warren were also expected to play big roles for the Yankees, but have battled the injury bug.
Injuries really cannot be helped in the world of sports; they are just something that every team deals with and only the best of the best can truly overcome. However, the sudden struggles of Tanaka and Clippard are a more pressing issue.
Tanaka has tried everything this season to remedy his poor performance, but nothing has worked. After a Cy Young-caliber 2016 season and a nearly perfect 2017 Spring Training, Tanaka has allowed a ridiculous 21 home runs over 14 starts, which is the second-highest total in the league. This is not the Tanaka that Yankee fans have seen over the first 3 years of his MLB career, who was a dependable ace every time he took the mound.
The same can be said for Clippard. While he doesn’t have the pedigree of Tanaka, Clippard is a 2-time All-Star and was a shutdown setup man just as recently as last year. This year though, Clippard has been giving up consistently hard contact and more home runs than usual. Clippard does not have excellent velocity on his pitches, so he makes his bones with pinpoint location and smart pitch selection.
Recently though, Clippard’s changeups have floated through the zone, and they have been getting hammered. This is probably just a slight mechanical flaw and a loss of confidence. Every reliever goes through this at some point; even the great Mariano Rivera had a similar stretch of allowing too many home runs in his final season.
The Yankees have a history of sticking with their veteran pitchers when they struggled, including Mike Mussina, CC Sabathia, and A.J. Burnett. The Yankees stuck with their guys the whole time, hoping and waiting for a breakthrough. In the cases of Mussina and Sabathia, the issues worked themselves out and they got back on track. The Yankees even gave Burnett two whole seasons to try and right the ship before they traded him to the Pirates.
If the Yankees were to cut Clippard, their already-thin bullpen depth would be even more exposed until Warren returns. And if the Yankees were to send down Tanaka, 60% of their rotation would be made up of rookies, with Michael Pineda and the young Luis Severino acting as the “veterans”.
If these guys are still struggling at the Trade Deadline, then it may be time to pursue an upgrade. But the season will not be lost in mid-June, and there’s still half the season left for Tanaka and Clippard to re-assert themselves.
As for the Yankees’ batters, the club has to be similarly patient. It is tempting to look at the trade market to make up for the remarkably average Chase Headley or the highly disappointing Chris Carter, but sometimes it’s better to stick with the devil you know rather than reaching out to the devil you don’t. Headley has proven the Yankees right for sticking with him recently, providing depth out of the bottom of the order. And while Carter has looked overmatched this whole season, the Yankees already have a tailor-made replacement at AAA in Tyler Austin, who is deserving of a shot now before the club looks at outside help.
This philosophy of patience even applies to the minor leagues. Given the news that top prospect Gleyber Torres will be out for the season due to Tommy John Surgery, it is key that the Yankees do not screw this up. They need to give Torres ample time to recover and cannot afford to rush him into games before he’s ready.
Torres was very close to breaking through to the MLB, but the Yankees have to reset Torres’ timeline for the sake of his overall well-being. Torres’ diagnosis was far from ideal, but it could allow him to play in Spring of 2018. If the Yankees handle this correctly, Torres will not lose much development time and can be with the Yankees by next Summer.
General Manager Brian Cashman has done a masterful job with the Yankees over his tenure, always putting the club in its best position to win while also keeping an eye on the future. While the Steinbrenner-led Yankees of the 1980s would have panicked with all this adversity, Cashman’s Yankees have to keep looking to the future. They cannot afford to make a hasty trade that would set the club back just to try and acquire a stopgap veteran. The Yankees are already exceeding expectations this season, even with this recent slump. So while it can be difficult, the Yankees need to keep exercising patience and trusting the process in order to reap the rewards in future years.