Considering how Stanton’s season went, that might not be the worst idea, though I would point out that his 2019 injuries all occurred either at the plate or on the basepaths. With Brett Gardner still a free agent, the outfield at present would likely include Frazier alongside Aaron Judge and Mike Tauchman if Stanton were unavailable to play the field. That’s just an on-paper exercise and a lot can change between now and Opening Day, but at present, there’s a way that Frazier could fit.
Frazier’s trade value took a hit with his up-and-down 2019, particularly the defensive lapses, with that Sunday night game against the Red Sox serving as the low point. Those were particularly confounding because even though Frazier was not going to be an American League Gold Glove Award contender, his routes and glovework had never looked that bad before. Could there have been a carryover effect, or loss of confidence, following his 2018 concussion issues?
On the positive side, Frazier continued to prove that his bat belongs in the big leagues. When the injury-ravaged Yankees needed him most, Frazier slashed .283/.330/.513 with 11 homers and 34 RBIs in the first half. That performance tailed off during subsequent months, but the Yankees do not seem inclined to sell his stock for pennies on the dollar -- if they’d wanted to dump him, they could have taken one of several underwhelming trade offers in July.
That said, it’s a complex situation. They did not rush to call Frazier up prior to Sept. 1 and shipped him to the Minor League complex in Tampa, Fla., after the season, where he continued to work out on a taxi squad in case he was needed during the playoffs. Despite Stanton’s injury, his name was not the one you heard as a potential replacement; instead, general manager Brian Cashman seemed to be focused on Tauchman, who was still recovering from his own injury issues.
How are the Yankees responding to the Astros’ sign-stealing situation?
-- Fred R., New York, N.Y.
Publicly, the club’s stance has been that they would prefer to reserve comment until Major League Baseball concludes its investigation of the Astros, and Cashman has offered several variations of that sentiment when asked in recent days. Perhaps Cashman’s most interesting response on the topic came at the recent General Managers Meetings, shortly after The Athletic’s story was published.
“I don't think it's a technological question alone,” Cashman said. “I think it's just the conduct of if you decide to play by the rules or you don't. And if you don't, there are consequences, whatever those might be. You're putting yourself at risk, you know, for whether it's future employment, current employment or sanctions or what have you. So I don't know if it's a technology question as much as just a general, how do you want to operate?”
Some members of the 2017 club that lost to the Astros in that AL Championship Series have posted brief but unmistakable responses: Judge, for example, quoted a tweet about Mike Fiers’ comments to The Athletic and added, “Wait... what....?” Could any of those alleged stolen signs have made a difference in the ALCS, a series that Houston won all four games at Minute Maid Park? Unfortunately, we’ll never know for sure.
While it is true that Paxton and Tanaka are eligible for free agency (Happ’s 2021 option would vest if he pitches 165 innings or makes 27 starts next season), that alone isn’t the reason why the Yankees should be in hot pursuit of Cole or Strasburg. Either of those pitchers would make any of the 30 teams better, and with Cashman already saying that starting pitching is the club’s focus, it’s easy to draw a line connecting them to The Bronx.
That’s the simple part. It gets more complicated when you plot out the salaries that are already on the books, their likely intent to stay under the second luxury tax threshold and the potential for Cole in particular to command upward of $35 million per year. That can all be discussed later; for now, it’s reasonable to expect that one or both of those hurlers will receive the guided-tour, red-carpet treatment at Yankee Stadium over the next few months.
What impact do you think new pitching coach Matt Blake will have on the pitching staff?
-- Daniel C., New York
I’m curious to see how the program changes and evolves from what Larry Rothschild had in place for the past nine years. Given the sterling reputation that Blake established during his time in the Indians' organization, I would expect that he will be incorporating a number of new high-tech gizmos to evaluate and track pitchers’ development -- not that Rothschild didn’t use those tools, but clearly the Yankees want to go all-in and close any gaps.
On his conference call with reporters, Blake spoke about how a large part of his job would be boiling down gigabytes of data into “bite-size nuggets” that the pitchers can understand and utilize when they’re on the mound. Keeping the pitchers healthy will also be a focus; Blake was said to have progressive concepts of how to integrate strength and conditioning for hurlers during his time in Cleveland, and several Indians pitchers have raved about his impact.
With MLB rosters expanding to 26 for next season, will there still be an extra-player option when they have doubleheaders?
-- Michael D., Thomaston, Maine
Yes. On those occasions, teams will still be permitted to promote an extra man, so there will be a 27th player active and in uniform for doubleheaders.
Will the Yankees re-sign Austin Romine as the backup catcher?
-- Danna W., Mount Sinai, N.Y.
Cashman said this week that he has had several conversations with Romine’s representatives, Billy Rose and Michael Moye, dating back to the season. There is interest, but the Yankees also believe that Kyle Higashioka is ready to serve as Gary Sánchez’s backup if necessary, and Higashioka is out of Minor League options.